News You May Have Missed September 15, 2019

A youth-led climate strike is set for September 20 & 27. Canadians might want to look at this Chatelaine (yes, Chatelaine!) story for an overview. The overall climate strike website is a bit glitchy, but it identifies all the supporting organizations and will help you identify climate strike actions nearby. As Chatelaine points out, Canada is nowhere near the targets in the Paris Agreement that it signed; the Climate Action Network identifies the shortfalls and necessary steps. Vice has some ideas about how to support the climate strike if you can’t attend.

A few related sites: Toronto Climate Action Network, Rally and March September 27. Code Pink (San Francisco March September 20)

Closer to home, note Martha’s list below. Propose rule changes would relax safety regulations in nursing homes, but Monday the 16th is the last day to comment.

Our colleague Crysostom has news, polls, gossip and analysis on important state elections, as well as some possible gubenatorial recalls.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump blocks Temporary Protected Status for Bahamians

Hurricane Dorian has left the Bahamas devasted—an over-used word that might well be an understatement in the current moment. Mark Morgan, current chief of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), had suggested that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) could be extended to Bahamians as a result, which would be in line with past practice regarding TPS. Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio (both from Florida) have also called for TPS for those affected by Dorian. Donald Trump has shot down that possibility, claiming “very bad people” from the Bahamas would be a threat to the safety of Americans if allowed to remain in the country.

As the Los Angeles Times explains, the TPS program was established by Congress in 1990 and allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant temporary legal status to individuals in the U.S. whose home countries have been impacted by armed conflict or natural disaster to such an extent that it would be “unsafe and inhumane to force them to return.” TPS does not grant a path to citizenship; it merely allows those affected by disaster to remain in the U.S. for appropriate periods of time. Hurricane Dorian is clearly the sort of disaster to which TPS was intended to respond. S-HP

If you want to urge your representatives to advocate for TPS and appropriate visa waivers for survivors of Hurricane Dorian , you can find their addresses at this link.

2. Supreme Court allows Trump to require that refugees apply for asylum in the countries they pass through

Asylum-seekers now must apply for asylum in any country they pass through before arriving in the United States, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling. (Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.) For example, an asylum seeker from Guatemala must first apply and be turned down in Mexico. A lawsuit on this issue is wending its way through the lower courts, and while an injunction had kept the policy from being implemented, the Supreme Court said it could go forward while the lawsuits proceeded, NBC News reported. Mexico said it would not change its policies in order to accommodate the US policy, according to Democracy Now.

More than 10,000 asylum seekers are waiting at the Tijuana-San Diego border to apply for asylum in the US. El Otro Lado is the only group providing legal aid at that site; in a tweet they wrote, “This is a death sentence for most of our clients.” RLS

If you want to advocate for the rights of asylum seekers, the addresses of appropriate people are here. You can also donate to El Otro Lado here.

3. Funding to analyze backlogged rape kits must be reauthorized by September 30

The Debbie Smith act, due to expire September 30, has resulted in  200,000 solved rape cases. The act, reauthorized in 2014, provided funding to test backlogged rape kits, which contain the evidence gathered when someone has reported a rape. In 2017 the backlog was 169,000, according to the Washington Post; another 200,000 remain in labs and police evidence rooms.  One in five rape kits identifies a serial rapist.
In a reversal of the usual story, the Senate has reauthorized the funding, while the House has not; reauthorization is buried in the Violence Against Women Act, and a reconciliation process has not yet begun.
As Debbie Smith, for whom the Act was named, told the Post,  Smith said. “Hope deferred means another day, week or year that a rapist remains on the street.” RLS

To urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and your representative to make sure that funding is authorized by the deadline, find their addresses here.

4. California passes bill banning for-profit prisons and detention centers

Assuming Governor Gavin Newsom signs the bill just passed by the California legislature, private prisons and immigrant detention facilities would be banned in California. There are currently four privately owned detention facilities in California, which are for all practical purposes prisons; in one of these facilities, Adelanto, immigrants were subject to abuse and denied medical care for “weeks and months,” according to the LA Times. The facilities will not be closed immediately but when their federal contracts end, Vice reported. Newsom is likely to sign the bill; as Democracy Now reported, when he was inaugurated, he said that California should “end the outrage of private prisons once and for all.” RLS

If you want to urge Governor Newsom to sign the bill–or suggest that your representatives sponsor similar legislation on the national level, check here for addresses.

5. Emoluments lawsuit against Trump can proceed

Trump may yet have to face a lawsuit based on the emoluments clause, which forbids elected officials from accepting profits from foreign governments. Though several courts had tossed out lawsuits saying they were politically motivated, a federal judge said that whether a lawsuit has political motivations is beside the point; lawsuits have to be evaluated on their merits. Time-consuming legal maneuvering will likely keep the case from going forward until after the 2020 election, according to Politico. RLS

If you wish to ask the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to continue to monitor possible emoluments clause violations by Donald Trump, you can contact him at this address.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Climate catastrope projected for Europe

Flooding and extreme rain in Northern and Central Europe. Drought in Southern Europe. The destruction of trees by bark beetle. Deadly cyanobacteria in warming lakes. Europe can expect an acute climate crisis unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced, according to Foreign Policy in Focus.

Various European political parties have advocated for the Green New Deal for Europe, which has identified ways to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

See the information above on the climate marches September 20 & 27.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Speaking of climate change…

A piece in the Washington Post outlines recent research showing that for many areas of the globe, the 2 c global warming “tipping point” is already here. While there have been many headlines about how global average temperatures are rising, not as much has been said of local temperature deviations, such as a “blob” of ocean just off the coast of Uruguay that has warmed by 3 c  since the 1980s, an increase which is having profound effects on local life and economies. An example is the yellow clam, once a significant food source that was abundant and gathered easily, with hundreds of tons collected in the mid 80’s. 1994 saw a massive die off of yellow clam; beaches were littered for miles with rotting shellfish. Stocks have not and likely will not ever recover.

Closer to home, the city of Philadelphia is enacting sweeping new procedures and protocols for heat emergencies as the number of days over 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the city have gone from an average of just three a year between 1950 and 1999 to over twice that in the last five years, according to Physics.Org. Heat emergencies present lethal danger to the elderly and infirm and by the end of the century, Philadelphia is expecting up to 53 days over 95 degrees. JC

8. Trump administration orders oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 19.3 million acre home to herds of caribou, polar bears, seals and dozens of migratory birds. It has also long been a target for the oil and gas industry, with large reserves of both oil and natural gas suspected to lie in the same geological formations that made areas like Prudhoe Bay so productive. The Trump administration managed get access to drilling with a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, controversial for its enormous tax cuts to wealthy corporations, legally opening the way to drilling and actually requiring that three leases to ANWR land be sold to the petroleum industry, the Washington Post reports.

The current proposed plans include four airstrips and drilling pads, 175 miles of roads, supports for pipelines and a seawater treatment plant. It is projected that the end of this century will see the extinction of several bird and seal species that depend on sea ice as well as many other species driven to threatened or endangered status. Scientists say that in order to prevent the worst case scenarios for climate change, we must stop all consumption of carbon fuels immediately; additional drilling is literally pouring fuel onto the fire. JC

See Martha’s list to find out how to comment on the plan to drill in Alaska’s Coastal Plain.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist emphasizes election security preparation and Temporary Protected Status for Bahamians. They also offer some good news.
  • Martha’s list alerts us to how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wants to modify nursing home regulations yet again – all but eliminating the ombudsman program and other protections. The proposed requirements would rollback numerous resident protections by eliminating or easing up on specific nursing home responsibilities. The result for residents? Reduced standards for safety, quality care and rights. Comment by the end of the day on the 16th. If you miss it, look at all the other issues in play.
  • See Martha’s list as well for opportunities to comment for the public record on cuts to food stamps, regulations linked to USCIS public charge rule, expedited removal of immigrants, immigration court changes, the Medicaid work requirement, and more.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list this week focuses on California. Because the legislature had to pass bills by September 13, a pile of crucial laws are now on Governor Newsom’s desk.
  • Rogan’s list also has some crucial items–on stopping adoptee deportation, stopping open carry in stores, forgiving student loans, and much more, including a list of where companies make political donations.

News You May Have Missed: September 8, 2019

Attention to elections and voter suppression is essential if 2020 is not to be a rerun of 2016. Metafilter notes a series of troublespots; Sarah-Hope reviews the most pressing issues below. Our colleague Crysostom asks “Will the last one to leave the House of Representatives please turn out the lights?” He sketches the impact of retirements and looks at polling data.

This week we also look at who is being targeted for surveillance, some quieter and more confusing immigration issues, and the impact of Trump’s wall on wildlife refuges, aid to Puerto Rico, and military families. And close to home, have you wondered why you couldn’t get your student loans forgiven, despite being in public service since forever? See story number 5.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Delete your old tweets!

A group of Trump supporters has committed to raising $2 million to investigate CNN, MSNBC, all broadcast networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and other news organizations, which it describes as media that “routinely incorporate bias and misinformation in their coverage.” Investigating potential inaccuracies in reporting is nothing new and has been pursued by groups all along the political spectrum.

What sets this project apart from others is its promise to “track the editors and reporters of these organizations” and to slip damaging information about these individuals to “friendly news outlets,” Axios reports. The New York Times reported that four sources close to the organization said that ” it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.” S-HP

If you are troubled by this new focus on discrediting individuals, you may want to raise these concerns with your elected officials.

2. Border policy protestors targeted

A document obtained by Yahoo News indicates that the FBI is monitoring groups protesting U.S. immigration policy along the southern border. The document, “an external intelligence note,” was produced by the FBI’s Phoenix office and distributed to other law enforcement agencies. It alleges that these groups are “increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force to further their goals.” (There seems to be less concern about anti-immigrant vigilante groups, such as the Guardian Patriots, which have been for years terrorizing immigrants along the border–with the tacit approval of the Border Patrol, according to the Washington Post.) According to Yahoo News, “The intelligence collected and cited in the FBI document… is worrisome to activists and civil rights advocates who say that the government is classifying legitimate government opposition and legally protected speech as violent extremism or domestic terrorism.” S-HP

If you’d like to see an investigation into the surveillance of activists, write Congress here.

3. Indigenous communities targeted by “virtual wall”

Surveillance towers and methods that are “field-proven,” presumably on Palestinians, are scheduled for construction across the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona, a community beseiged by drone surveillance, facial recognition software and security checkpoints, according to the Intercept. The Border Patrol has contracted with the U.S. division of Elbit Systems, a large miliary equipment company in Israel, to further develop a 26 million dollar security system.; Elbit has already built 55 fixed towers in southern Arizona. Younger community members working or studying in the cities are less and less eager to come home, as their movements are incessantly tracked. As the Intercept describes it, ” Vehicle barriers, surveillance cameras, and trucks have appeared near burial grounds and on hilltops amid ancient saguaro forests, which are sacred to people on the reservation.” RLS

4. Cherokee Nation sending representative to Congress

The 1835 Treaty of New Echota resulted in the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from its tribal land to territories in Oklahoma, an event known as the Trail of Tears. Nearly 4,000 died as a result of that forced march. As part of the 1835 treaty, the US government promised the Cherokee Nation that it could seat a delegate in the US House of Representatives. The Cherokee Nation has now announced its intention to appoint a delegate, Kimberly Teehee, according to CNN. Teehee interned with Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation, and pursued a career in law, on Mankiller’s advice, when she returned to college from that internship. She has worked for the Democratic National Committee and was a policy advisor during the Obama administration. She contributed to the Violence Against Women Act and to the formation of Congress’ Native American Caucus. Congress will have to take action before Teehee can begin serving as the Cherokee Nation’s representative. S-HP

If you would like to congratulate Teehee on her appointment and ask Speaker Pelosi to welcome her, the contact information is here.

5. Review finds public servants still denied student loan relief

A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that a revised version of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) called the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (TEPSLF) has failed to address profound failures to deliver on its promises to dedicated public servants such as teachers and nurses. The PSLF came under criticism by Congress because the vast majority of applicants were being rejected.

The program promises forgiveness of student loans after ten years of work in certain public service professions. A very small percentage of applicants managed to actually obtain loan forgiveness, the vast majority being rejected for a variety of minor rule requirements or unclear guidelines, according to NPR. To address this issue, Congress created TEPSLF and set aside $700 million in funding for the program, directing the Department of Education to streamline and simplify the process for approval. The GAO has found that to date only $27 million had been distributed, just 661 out of over 54,000 requests: A failure rate of 99%. The majority of rejections were because applicants had not first applied for the PSLF program and been rejected, a requirement which was unclear to say the least. Smaller numbers were rejected for not making the required 10 years of payments and a technicality that requires the payments made be equal to or more than the sum of an income-driven repayment plan. The GAO recommends further streamlining of the process. 

6. “Expedited removal” procedures would allow immigrants to be removed without a hearing–and without the right to appeal

Currently, Department of Homeland Security rules allow for expedited removal of any undocumented immigrant arrested within 100 miles of a land border—and the definition of “undocumented” being used is questionable, with several recent cases of U.S.-born citizens being taken into immigration detention under this rule, Think Progress reports. Eighteen-year-old Francisco Galicia, for example, was arrested while traveling with friends to a soccer event. He provided Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) with his Texas state ID, which he had obtained by providing his social security card. His mother provided CBP with his original birth certificate, showing he was born in the U.S., as well as his health insurance card and has school ID. Despite this, Galicia continued to be held by CBP for three weeks and was refused the right to make phone calls for that entire period—regardless of the fact that such immigration holds are legally limited to seventy-two hours. After those three weeks, Galicia was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was released within a few days.

The fact that such illegal detentions of U.S. citizens are happening now under the more limited rule suggests that illegal detentions of citizens will increase when the rule is broadened—by 20,000 additional incidents per year, NPR speculates, also pointing out that expedited removal regulations permit people to be deported without a hearing and do not allow for appeals. However, in a hearing September 6, the ACLU asked a federal judge for an injunction, as expedited removals were expected to begin early in September, Courthouse News reports. S-HP.

This rule is currently open for public comments. Information on how to comment is here.

7. Judges losing authority over immigration–comment now.

The Republican administration appears to be attempting to circumvent the nation’s system of immigration courts. The Department of Justice (DoJ) is attempting to have the union representing immigration judges decertified, claiming that the judges are management and therefore do not qualify for union representation. Judge Ashley Tabaddor, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, objects to this claim, telling NPR that “[Immigration judges] do not set policies, and we don’t manage staff.” The Federal Labor Relations Agency previously rejected a similar effort during the Clinton administration, but the make-up of the Agency has seen such significant changes in subsequent years that there is no assurance it will rule similarly this time around. Judges are pressured to hear 700 cases per year and cope with ever-changing rules without sufficient administrative report, as Ilyce Shugall, director of the Immigrant Legal Defense Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco, explains.

In addition, the Department of Justice has announced a new interim rule that gives the director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR—the office within the DoJ that oversees immigration courts) the power to issue decisions in immigration cases not decided within a certain timeframe. Given that the nation current has only 440 immigration judges who are facing 900,000 pending immigration cases, this suggests that a significant portion of future immigration decisions may not be made by immigration judges. S-HP

This rule change has been put into place but can still be officially commented on. See the link and this document for information.

8. Voter suppression looms

Let’s connect some dots about voting in the U.S:

*For years under the Voting Rights Act, states with counties that had histories of racially based voter discrimination required federal “pre-clearance” (permission) before changing their voting laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling threw out that requirement. Since then, states that previously needed pre-clearance to change voting laws—particularly Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona—have had 40% higher rates of voter purging than states that had no history of discrimination necessitating pre-clearance.

*Between 2014 and 2016 (after pre-clearance was no longer required), some 16 million voters were purged from state voter rolls. Between 2016 and 2018 17 million voters were purged.

*According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of 2018, 10 states had “strict” voter ID laws that require voters without ID to cast a provisional ballot and to provide additional identifying information after the election before their votes will be counted. Another 25 states had “non-strict” voter ID laws, that allow at least some (though often very few) voters without ID to have their votes counted without providing additional identifying information after the election. Two more states had voter identification laws that were not enforced at that time because they were stuck down by courts.

*An investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has found serious voting irregularities in Georgia elections, according to Salon, with the rates of irregularities highest in primarily African American voting districts.

*Reporting by Bloomberg Businessweek has revealed probable collaboration between the 2016 Trump campaign and an organization called Trump for Urban Communities that was dedicated to sending Black voters the message, “If you can’t stomach Trump, just don’t vote for other people and don’t vote at all.” The campaign was most active in urban centers that ultimately had lower-than-expected Black voter turnout.

*Twelve states still use paperless electronic voting machines in some areas. Four states use them statewide. Given all this, it would be unreasonable not to draw the conclusion that the right to vote, particularly for voters of color, is at risk in many parts of the U.S. While the House has passed several pieces of voting rights/vote protection legislation, Mitch McConnell has not allowed any of that legislation to be voted on in the Senate. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the right to vote, your legislators’ contact information can be found here.

9. Military families sacrifice daycare & schools to build Trump’s wall; Puerto Rico loses $400 million for hurricane reconstruction

Not only will nine schools and a daycare center on military bases not be built if Trump succeeds in diverting $3.6 billion from the military budget to his border wall, but critical rebuilding funds will not be sent to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. MSNBC notes that Puerto Rico will lose the most, 400m. Trump declared a national emergency at the border in order to justify diverting $8 billion from other federal budgets for the wall, and already diverted $2.5 billion from the military budget, according to Politico. PBS News Hour has an explainer on the issue, pointing out that whether Congress will backfill the Pentagon budget that Trump has raided will only become clear next month when legislators come back from recess. A group of Democratic senators wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, saying that “We also expect a full justification of how the decision to cancel was made for each project selected and why a border wall is more important to our national security and the well-being of our service members and their families than these projects.”
Trump has become increasingly frantic to get the wall built before the 2020 election, the Washington Post reports, so much so that he told aides he would pardon them if they violated any laws getting it done (later claiming it was a joke). He also is determined that it should be painted black. RLS

If you have views about this redirection of funds, you can write the Acting Secretary of Defense and your elected officials here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Complicity in war crimes in Yemen

The United Nations-commissioned Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEEY) said during a press conference that the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Iran may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen because they have supplied weapons to parties in the conflict, a practice which “perpetuates the conflict” and has prolonged the suffering of the Yemeni people, CNN reports. GEEY also said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the internationally recognized Yemeni government, and Iranian-backed rebels fighting the government have all enjoyed a “pervasive lack of accountability” for their actions in the conflict, which include torture, sexual violence, and the deliberate use of starvation as a tool of war. The GEEY “has recommended that their states prohibit authorization of arms transfers and refrain from providing arms to parties in the conflict…. Because of the prevailing risk that such arms will be used by parties to commit or to facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

If you think the US should stop sending weapons to Yemen, write your elected officials.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Suicide rates climbing, especially in rural areas.

A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open provides evidence that suicide rates in the United States are rising, particularly in rural areas of the nation. Researchers at Ohio State University took data spanning from 1999 to 2016 and did a county-by-county breakdown, finding that suicide rates had increased in that time by a sobering 41%. 1999 saw 15 suicides per 100,000 people per county and 2016 had 21 deaths per 100,000. Rural areas saw the largest increase by far, with a shocking 22 deaths per 100,000 on average, with large urban areas showing 17 per 100k. Interesting, there appeared to be a relation between the number of gun stores and the suicide rate, linking easier availability to firearms with higher rates of suicide. Rural areas suffer from a lack of resources and education regarding suicide prevention.

12. Maps that actually matter

If Trump’s 17 environmental waivers go through, the Border Wall will cut through six tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as well as through the towns of Mission and La Grulla and along the edge of the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, according to the Monitor. These were areas excluded from the Congressional budget agreement earlier this year after considerable outcry. The waivers were executed by acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and effectively bypass Congress, while waiving  the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Farmland Protection Policy Act, according to the Valley Greenspace Blog, which speaks to issues in the Rio Grande Valley. A map is available on their site.

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is home to endangered species, such as the ocelot, as well as four hundred species of birds, some of them rare, according to the Texas Monthly.  Border construction is also beginning this week in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a national park in Arizona, construction which will tear out ancient Saguaro cactus as well as creosote. Members of the Tohono O’odam Nation “harvest saguaro fruit and perform their sacred salt ceremony in and around Organ Pipe,” according to High Country News. By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds.

By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds. RLS

If you want to speak up about the destruction of wildlife refuges, information to do so is here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is still on summer break, but you can sign up for their checklist now.
  • In addition to proposing various action items, Sarah-Hope recommends that we send well-wishes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See Sarah-Hope’s list here.
  • Most important on Martha’s list are the USCIS tip form and cuts to food stamps (SNAP). She also identifies opportunities for public comment on proposed changes Medicare Part B, impending exploitation Alaskan wilderness and national forests, the Medicaid work requirement, Drinking water, Nuclear weapons, allowable residues of pesticides residuesm the right of federal employees to unionize, and more.
  • If you want to help victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, plant trees to address the climate crisis, work against the deportation of immigrants in medical need, or engage in some other way, see Rogan’s List, now with new items.

News You May Have Missed: September 1, 2019

Maybe you intuited–but thought it might be too far-fetched–that fires in the Amazon might be Trump’s fault. You were close: it’s the fault of one of his American donors. Read our second story: you won’t believe it. No–sadly–you will.

Have you been wanting to help address treatment of asylum seekers at the border? The Center for Public Integrity is asking for help sorting through complaint documents released by Homeland Security and logging specific details. The material is online. You can do this for as brief or extended a period as you want.

Our colleague Crysostom suggests that you find out what happens when people stop being polite and start resigning from Congress in August 27’s ELECTIONS NEWS. The August 29 issue has interesting news about retirements as well.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Deportation = death sentence.

A key immigration rule once allowed deferred deportation for families who have a member receiving life-saving medical treatment in the U.S. The Republican administration has begun unilaterally refusing to consider these claims, except for members of the military. In many instances, the countries these people will be deported are not able to provide the needed medical care, essentially sentencing such individuals to death. Though according to WBUR, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says only a limited number of people will be affected, “That ‘limited number of people’ is mostly terminally ill kids. They’re kids with cancer and HIV and horrific terminal illnesses,” Anthony Marino, legal director at the Boston-based Irish International Immigrant Center explained.

Earlier this month, a diabetic man deported to Iraq died because of the lack of insulin availability in that country. While his deportation happened before this change in policy, we can anticipate many more such tragedies if the refusal to consider medical necessity deportation deferrals continues. The families affected have been given 33 days to leave the country retroactive to any requests filed on or before Aug. 7th. A bicameral group of over 100 Congressmembers sent a letter to the administration on August 30 objecting to this policy change and announcing an investigation of the change by the House Oversight and Government and Affairs Committee subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. S-HP

If you want to speak up about deporting people undergoing medical treatment, here is how.

2. Amazon fires linked to Trump and McConnell donors

Let’s play a round of Follow the Money, courtesy of reporting by The Intercept. Much of the Brazilian Amazon region is on fire, with many fires set in order to seize land for agriculture and to drive out indigenous peoples (in order to seize land for agriculture). One relatively new roadway beginning deep in the Amazon, B.R. 163, has become a prime site for deforestation because it provides a shipping pathway for agricultural products from the deforested land. That shipping pathway begins with a deep-Amazon terminal in Miritituba, run by Hidrovias do Brasil. Hidrovias do Brazil’s majority owner is Pátria Investimientos.

Pátria is owned by the U.S. investment firm Blackstone, which also separately holds an additional ten percent stake in Hidrovias. The founder and Chief Executive Officer of Blackstone is Stephen Schwarzman, a major Trump and McConnell donor, who has given those politicians millions in recent years. So in simplified terms, we have a chain linking the Amazon fires to Hidrovias to Pátria to Blackwell to Schwarzman to Trump/McConnell. According to the company itself “Blackstone is committed to responsible environmental stewardship. This focus and dedication is [sic] embedded in every investment decision we make and guides how we conduct ourselves as operators.” Blackstone argues that by providing a shipping pathway that begins deep in the Amazon, goods can be sent to markets with less overall pollution than that which would be created by individual deep-Amazon growers shipping their goods separately by longer, more difficult routes.

However, this logic does nothing to acknowledge the fact that since the shipping terminal in Miritituba has been built, deforestation has been centered on that area of the Amazon and has consistently increased in that area, even when deforestation in other areas of the Amazon was being reduced. In other words, the level of potential pollution that Blackstone uses to justify its shipping terminal would not exist if that terminal had not been built. S-HP

If you want to speak about the responsibility American corporations have for fires in the Amazon, you may do so here.

3. California and Massachusetts take the lead on lawsuit against Trump

California and Massachusetts have announced a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s planned termination of Flores Agreement protections for children being imprisoned in immigration detention. Seventeen additional states have signed on to the lawsuit, according to the L.A. Times. The Flores Agreement requires that children in immigration detention be released within twenty days; the Trump plan will allow for indefinite detention of children and families. The key argument underlying the lawsuit is that, because federal detention centers are not required to meet state licensing requirements, the new practices will interfere with states’ obligation to ensure the health and safety of children. This is the fifty-seventh lawsuit California has filed against the Trump administration and the thirteenth to deal with immigration issues . S-HP

If you wish to thank the Attorneys General of California and Massachusetts for their leadership on this issue: Attorney General Xavier Becerra, 1300 “I” Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 952-5225• Attorney General Maura Healey, 1 Ashburn Place, Boston, MA 02108-1698, (617) 727-7200

4. Gun bills not reaching committee–mass shootings becoming deadlier

After yet another mass shooting, it’s worth counting up the number of gun bills before Congress: 110. Congress is now on recess, Among the bills they might have considered are one requiring background checks (including at gun shows), another prohibiting high-capacity magazines, another preventing perpetrators of intimate partner violence from owning guns, still another advocating red flag laws, Most of them have been written by Democrats, according to PBS. Only five have advanced to committee. 113,108 people are shot every year, the Brady Foundation reports, and 36,383 are killed.

Meanwhile, a statistical analysis by the Violence Project and reported by the LA Times has revealed that mass shootings are becoming more lethal. “During the 1970s, mass shootings claimed an average of 5.7 lives per year. In the 1980s, the average rose to 14. In the 1990s it reached 21; in the 2000s, 23.5. This decade has seen a far sharper rise. Today, the average is 51 deaths per year,” the researchers write. The Violence Project, which has studied every mass shooting since 1966, has an analysis of what mass shooters have in common: early childhood trauma, a crisis that lead to suicidal thinking, a craving for media attention–and the means to carry out mass violence. RLS

5. Only believers in a particular god may offer invocations

The federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision and reinstated the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy of only allowing House members with a belief in God to deliver the invocations to open legislative sessions. The appeals court ruled that the policy fell within the “historical tradition of legislative prayer” and counts as government speech that is protected from a free speech or equal protection challenge. While the decision does acknowledge that no particular theistic religion can be held above others, Americans United for Separation of Church and State observes that it legitimizes discrimination against non-theists. JM-L

6. Canadian Muslims, Chinese students turned away at the border

Six Canadian Muslim men–not traveling together–were denied entrance to the U.S. in recent weeks, according to the CBC. Several originally come from countries not covered by the “Muslim ban.” Several are significant community leaders. Two of them had special-needs children with them. No reason was offered for the refusal. As one of the lawyers representing the group told the CBC, “Having worked as an immigration lawyer for over 40 years, nothing surprises me anymore but, in all my years, I have never seen such a Kafkaesque scenario.”

And nine Arizona State students from China, returning for their fall term, were refused admission at the border by Customs and Border Protection and sent back to China. ASU says it has not been able to get an answer about why they were denied admission, according to USA Today. Several are due to graduate this semester; they are continuing to take courses through Arizona State’s on-line program.

Just FYI, even if you are a citizen, border officials have the right to look through your devices–because lawsuits challenging the practice are still wending their way through the courts. If you don’t want them to do so, you can request a lawyer–though you will have to pay them, according to Business Insider.. RLS

7. No election oversight?

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is charged with investigating violations of election law, particularly campaign finance rules. The FEC is supposed to have six members and requires a quorum of four to meet. Four votes are also needed to initiate any investigation or action. The FEC has been limping along with four members for quite some time, meaning little has been done because, with reduced membership, all votes had to be unanimous. Now, one of the FEC’s Republican members (there are rules about party balance among Commissioners) has resigned, leaving membership at three and making all meetings and actions impossible. S-HP

If the lack of election oversight concerns you, you can write to these people.

8. Coal miners still blocking coal train–4 weeks later

On this Labor Day, remember that Harlan County coal miners are still camped on railroad tracks, blocking the coal they mined from leaving; they have been there for four weeks.  Blackjewel, the bankrupt company they worked for, either didn’t pay them or withdrew their paychecks out of their bank accounts. 1800 workers around the company were affected. The Labor Department has asked for an injunction to keep the company from moving the coal–about a million dollar’s worth–and a group of lawyers is trying to secure the workers’ compensation in bankruptcy proceedings, according to the Washington Post.  RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Climate change-driven hurricane demolishes the Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian, whose pathway has strewn such confusion, is the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. Winds have reached 185 MPH and some 30 inches of rain has fallen, according to the Washington Post. “You cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told the Guardian.

Category 5 hurricanes have become more common over the last forty years due to the climate crisis. Warming oceans lead to rising oceans, due to expansion, giving hurricanes a higher starting point; warm, humid air fuels hurricanes as well. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a very clear explanation of this phenomenon. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Fake social media accounts to be set up by USCIS

Fake social media accounts will be set up by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) so they can spy on people seeking “visas, green cards and citizenship,” according to PBS. Even though both Twitter and Facebook forbid impersonation and even though agents are prohbited from “friending” those on Facebook, they can access users’ public posts (and presumably, public groups). The Center for Democracy & Technology has submitted a FOIA request to learn how USCIS uses social medis data. Dave Maass, senior investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out that this practice “undermines our trust in social media companies and our ability to communicate and organize and stay in touch with people.”

The EFF also points out that the partnership between Ring, the Amazon company that provides front-door cameras and 400 police departments has significant privacy implications. Some cities offer discounts; Ring representatives coach police departments on how to coax residents to relinquish their footage without a warrant. RLS

RESOURCES

  • See the Americas of Conscience Checklist for lists of issues and easy actions you can take.
  • Many items on Sarah-Hope’s list follow the stories above, but if you want to see other items, the entire list is here.
  • Martha’s list, which addresses ways to respond for the public record, includes information on plans to restructure immigration courts, a proposed USCIS tip line on immigrants suspected of using public benefits, a rule which would prevent the FDA from labeling Round-Up as a carcinogen, a proposal to open Alaska national forests to roads.
  • Rogan’s list is taking a break till after Labor Day, but it still has many timely items on it.

News You May Have Missed: August 25, 2019

Despite everything else that is going on–fires in the Amazon, incarceration of children in the U.S.–all eyes also need to be on the economy: see our round-up below. And note that in addition to rule changes that would undermine the well-being of vulnerable people, there are also viable Senate bills to support Social Security and procure dental care for seniors and children. See the Resources tab and the links below the news items for actions you can take.

‘Tis the season: see our colleague Crysostom’s regular upates on elections here!

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Tank the economy; blame the incoming president.

We at NYMHM are worried that a recession may be inevitable largely due to the Trump administration’s absolutely bonkers trade and economic policies. Many economists expect recession by the end of 2021 (pdf), when it would most hamper the first term of a Democratic president if Trump doesn’t win in 2020. This week, in the largest revision since 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics corrected job growth figures downwards by roughly 500,000 jobs. The Congressional Budget Office raised its 2019 budget deficit projection by about 7% ($63 billion, for a total of $960 billion) and estimated that the Trump administration’s planned tariffs could lower U.S. GDP by 0.3% in 2019. Goods-producing employment (warning: autoplaying video) is lower than almost any year under Obama and has fallen precipitously in the past year.  Trump is floating a payroll tax cut (warning: autoplaying video) which would increase the federal budget deficit—and 50% of its benefits would go to the top 20% of income-earners. (JM)

2. New rules would keep families locked up indefinitely

The 1977 Flores settlement sets minimum standards for holding minors in immigration detention, prohibiting holding them beyond twenty days and mandating provision of food, water, toilets, sinks, emergency medical care and more. The Republican Administration has repeatedly violated Flores, holding children significantly beyond the twenty-day limit and claiming that Flores only applies to unaccompanied minors, despite a court ruling affirming Flores rights for all minors in immigration detention. Now the administration has announced that it is abandoning the Flores settlement. Pending judicial approval, Flores protections could be abandoned by the second half of October. Since this move has been posted as a rule change, there is no official comment period and Congressional action would be necessary to block it. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the Flores settlement, addresses are here.

3. Employees prosecuted. Employers go free.

In general, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids on places of employment using undocumented workers make hundreds of arrests of individual workers, but rarely prosecute the employers, who are legally required to confirm workers’ immigration status. Time notes that between April 2018 and March 2019 (a period during which a total of 120,000 people were prosecuted for illegal entry), only eleven employers were prosecuted for hiring undocumented workers, and only three of those were sentenced to any prison time. Results have been similar for the sweeping ICE raids of Mississippi poultry processing plants and other workplaces during August: 680 workers were arrested (with 300+ later released), but no arrests of employers have been made. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the unequal treatment ICE gives to employers and employees, the addresses are here.

4. Proposal to narrow rights for LGBTQ people

The Justice Department is pressuring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to reverse its position; Justice wants the EEOC to tell the Supreme Court that employers can discriminate against LGBTQ people, according to Bloomberg.

The Supreme Court is preparing to take up three cases having to do with LGBTQ rights and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects individuals from sex-based discrimination, the Huffington Post reports. In the past, protections against sex-based discrimination have occasionally, but not consistently, been used to protect the rights of LGBQ and Transgendered individuals. In the first case, the use of “sex” has been taken to embrace sexual and affectional orientation because it is, essentially, the sex of the individuals involved in LGBTQ relationships that is used to justify discrimination. In the second case, “sex” has been accepted not just as a matter of perceived gender at birth, but as a matter of individual identity, which may or may not align with physical characteristics at birth. The Republican administration has recently presented two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court arguing for a narrow interpretation of “sex” in upcoming cases, an interpretation that could make discrimination on the basis of LGBQ or transgendered status legal. S-HP

If you want to address the use of public money to eliminate protections for LGBTQ people, you can write to key people here.

5. Rule changes would allow religious organizations to discriminate

The Department of Labor has announced rules changes that would allow that would allow “religious-exercising organizations” with federal contracts much broader freedom to discriminate. The proposal specifically classifies as “religious-exercising organizations” not just companies engaged in some aspect of the business of religion, but also businesses whose owners have such beliefs, regardless of the services or products the business provides, according to the Washington Post. Among those likely to be negatively impacted (in other words, subject to firing) would be LGBTQ individuals, unmarried women who are pregnant, perhaps even divorced individuals, individuals with children born out of wedlock, or individuals using birth control—since there are “sincerely held” beliefs condemning all of these groups. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, one-quarter of all employees in the U.S. work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government. Put those two facts together and you get a sense of the potential destruction that could be wreaked as a result of these rules changes. S-HP

If you want to challenge the idea that religious freedom permits discrimination, you can write the head of the Office of Federal Compliance.

6. Legislation to preserve Social Security

This fall, assuming the legislation makes it through committee, the House will likely be voting on H.R.860, the Social Security 2100 Act. Currently, Social Security benefits average just $16,000 per year—while only about 20% of Americans have retirement pensions and only about half have retirement savings. Even at this level, Social Security faces a projected shortfall beginning in 2035. H.R.860 would address these problems. It would create a formula for increasing payments based on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). In addition, an individual’s full salary would be subject to Social Security withholding, rather than just the first $132,000 of that income as is currently the case. Currently this legislation is with several House Committees: the Social Security Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee; the Committee on Education and Labor; and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. S-HP

If you have something to say about this legislation, write to your representative and to the committee chairs.

7. Dental Care

There’s a pair of bills currently before Congress that would make minimal-cost dental care available to needy children, seniors, and others. S.22 and H.R.2951, both titled Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2019, would expand Medicare to include oral health, in other words, dental care. As Dientes, one group supporting the legislation, points out, one in five seniors have lost all their teeth, and tooth loss and pain can create significant difficulties in eating and speaking, affecting not only physical health, but emotional health and social connectedness as well. S.22 is currently with the Senate Finance Committee. H.R.2951 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP

If you would like to articulate your position on dental care for seniors and children, you can contact the elected officials listed here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Europe exerts pressure to combat Amazonian fires

The Amazon rain forest in Brazil has a near record number of uncontrolled fires burning, an 83% increase over the number of fires last year. Most of the fires are intentional, set by farmers burning the forest to clear land for soy and cattle, a practice encouraged by current Brazilian president Bolsonaro. In response French president Macron along with Irish prime minister Varadkar have said they will block a proposed trade deal between the EU and several South American states including Brazil. Additionally Norway and Germany have slashed money provided to an Amazonian conservation fund, sighting the lack of protection for the forest in the wake of Mr. Bolsonaro’s presidency, the Independent reports. Bolsonaro has accused Europe of engaging in a colonialist mindset and interfering with Brazilian sovereignty. The Amazon basin is one of the world’s largest depositories of biodiversity and a huge carbon sink/oxygen producer. JC

9. Ultra fast lasers to weld ceramics — implications for space travel

Ceramics are a broad and remarkable class of materials with uses ranging from spacecraft to medical implants. Until now ,a serious drawback has been the fact that in order to fuse or weld two ceramic parts together, one had to heat the entire surfaces of both parts to extremely high temperatures. A team of engineers at the Universities of San Diego and California Riverside has succeeded in using extremely rapid pulsed lasers to weld ceramic materials together, using a very modest amount of energy and not requiring the rest of the material be heated at all., Science Daily reports. This is important because though ceramics would make for an ideal housing for something such as a smart phone, one could not enclose the electronics and have them survive the heat of a kiln. Welded ceramics open the door for things like metal-free pacemakers, super tough and scratch-resistant smart phones and electronics better able to withstand conditions in deep space. JC

10. Google employees to Google: “Don’t be evil.”

Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Values Statement promises that the company will not “build technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights,” and the company has abandoned programs in the past, when they were found to conflict with this value. Now,a group of Google employees is petitioning Google to end all cooperation with Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement because “by any interpretation, CBP and ICE are in grave violation of human rights law.” As of mid-August, over 1,000 employees had signed on to the petition, according to CNBC. S-HP

If you would like to join Google employees in this petition, you can do it here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has reliable and engaging information. See their site for an explanation and easy actions you can take.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s recommendations for action items follow the relevant stories, but there are a few from last week that you might want to revisit.
  • About her list, Martha says that the most important item is the first one in the “Closing Soon” section about the “National Environmental Policy Act Compliance” which applies to all National Forests.and would leave the public with no role in more than 90 percent of the decisions made for our national forests. This is a clear violation of the public trust and of major laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, and it’s designed to ramp up clearcutting and bulldozing of millions of acres in national forests, Also extremely important is the Final Rule allowing unlimited detention of immigrant children, “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children” – there is no opportunity to comment as it’s final. But you can write your legislators.
  • Rogan’s list is on hiatus until after Labor Day, but the items on her site are still pertinent.

News You May Have Missed: August 18, 2019

News You May Have Missed tries to help with information overload by calling your attention to noteworthy but undercovered stories–or stories which badly need context. At the same time, we look for significant good news. See in particular the first story in the Science & Technology section, which tells us something about how we got here.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. States suing the administration over rules blocking immigrants from services

Following Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, Maine has joined the lawsuit California has brought against the Trump administration for its policy blocking legal status for those who use or are thought likely to use public services such as federal housing assistance, food stamps, or Medicaid, according to the Press Herald. As Vice points out, the new rules will hit low-income immigrants with disabilities especially hard, making it impossible for them to access caregivers and wheelchairs, for example. As a result of the proposed policy, immigrants are not accessing programs that would provide food and medicine for their U.S. citizen children, for fear that their own legal status will be jeopardized. RLS

If you wish to write your senators and representatives about this issue, you can find the link here.

2. “Reprogramming” money meant for FEMA

Once money is allocated to a federal agency, that agency may request to transfer (or unilaterally transfer) some of those monies from one account within the agency to another. Last year, for example, the Department of Homeland Security “reprogrammed” (that’s the official term for the process) $200 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from a variety of other accounts including FEMA (this transfer was made at the start of hurricane season), the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration, Politico reports. DHS has indicated it intends to do the same in the coming fiscal year and has filed reprogramming requests with the House. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security subcommittee, has confirmed the submission of the reprogramming request. It is not clear how essential Congressional approval to this transfer of funds is. The Democratic House is likely to reject increased ICE funding by whatever means, but the administration may try to make the moves unilaterally. S-HP

To voice your opinion on this issue, write to relevant committee chairs.

3. Cops working with/for ICE

In 2017, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Values Act, SB-54, into law. SB-54 prohibited California’s local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) from using resources to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identify, detail, arrest, and/or transfer custody of immigrants. In SB-54’s first five months (January-May 2018), California saw a 41% decrease in ICE arrests in local jails, but further study has revealed a pattern of non-compliance with the California Values Acts by many LEAs. A repost released by Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Asian Law Caucus, the University of Oxford Centre for Criminology, and Oxford’s Border Criminologies Program shows that some 40% of 169 LEAs are out of compliance with the California Values Act.

The most common method LEAs use to evade SB-54 requirements is a cynical exploitation of a rule that allows the release of “information generally available to the general public” to ICE and CBP. These LEAs have adopted new, post AB-54 practices of posting information online about release dates, court hearing dates and locations, and identifying information for immigrants. The agencies frequently supply information about to be posted to ICE and CBP in advance, according to Rewire. Any transfer of an immigrant from an LEA to ICE is required to be reported to the California Attorney General, but in fact LEAs are providing ICE with non-reported access to non-public, secure areas of jails to arrest detained persons immediately before they are released. A movement is now underway to ask for the following practices from the California Attorney General and Department of Justice:

  • auditing of LEA compliance with SB-54 and advice in modifying practices to comply with SB-54
  • establishing a clear, accessible process for reporting and reviewing alleged SB-54 violations
  • providing full public access to all data on SB-54 compliance and all materials from SB-54 violation reviews. S-HP

Californians can write their representatives about this issue. Here is how to find them.

4. State Department employees routinely bullied, report says

Numerous State Department employees, most of them junior, were harassed by senior management, particularly Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley and former senior adviser Mari Stull. According to a report by the State Department’s inspector general, employees thought insufficiently loyal to Trump were berated, retaliated against, and had promotions denied. RLS

5. Christian books exempted from tariffs

The Republican administration recently announced a new series of tariffs to be levied against goods produced in China. The new tariffs included a 10% levy on books published in China—where a quarter of all books sold in the U.S. are produced. Shortly after, the Republican administration back-pedaled on some of the tariffs, saying they would delay putting these in place in order to “not ruin Christmas.” The goods allowed this tariff delay included children’s books and Bibles and religious texts. Almost all other types of books remain on the current tariff list, including art books, text books, dictionaries and encyclopedias, and technical, scientific, and professional publications, according to the Washington Examiner.

These actions are cause for concern for two reasons. First, they show a deliberate governmental action in support of religion that violates the First Amendment. Second, as Shelf Awareness (a major publishing news source) explains, “A tariff on books is a tax on information, and at odds with longstanding U.S. policy of not imposing tariffs on educational, scientific and cultural materials.” S-HP

If you are troubled by the concept of tariffs on books, here’s how to intervene.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. 25% of Hong Kong’s population marched in the pouring rain

In the face of a threatened five-year jail term, 1.7 million people marched from a rally to the government center in Hong Kong, undaunted by torrential rain. Protestors demand the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill which would have permitted people to be sent to China for trial. According to the Guardian, they are asking for independent investigations of police violence and the free election of Hong Kong’s leaders–a measure which was provided for in the handover agreement of 1997, in which Britain returned control of the territory to Beijing, but never implemented. RLS

7. Silence on nuclear issue

On August 5, India revoked the special status of Kashmir that had given it limited political autonomy; at the same time, it silenced all communications, shutting down newspapers, telephones and the internet. Some 4,000 people have been arrested, according to Al Jazeera, under a law which permits people to be imprisioned for up to two years without being charged or tried. Pakistan has condemned India’s actions. The BBC has a useful background piece clarifying the origins of the conflict between India and Pakistan over the state of Kashmir. However, the BBC, along with most media outlets other than Al Jazeera, does not mention the acute danger of the conflict, given that both countries have nuclear weapons, as Foreign Policy in Focus explains. RLS

8. Books & writers endangered in Turkey

Publishers have been closed, writers have been silenced, and books have been destroyed since the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey. Now Turkey’s education minister, Ziya Selçuk, announced that the destruction of some 300,000 books that are claimed to reference Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Muslim cleric whom the Erdogan administration believes was behind the 2016 coup attempt. 50,000 people have been detained over the last three years, the Guardian reports. For a backgrounder on Turkey, see Conn Hallinan’s piece in Foreign Policy in Focus. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. A beautiful discovery hints at the origin of life

One of the great mysteries in science is exactly how and under what conditions life first arose on Earth. Thanks to research submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States (PNAS) by a team at the University of Washington in Seattle, we may understand the process a little better. All life is composed of cells, which are essentially bags of fatty acids containing proteins and DNA/RNA. Without cell walls, it would be impossible for a cell to perform the activities of life. How exactly that winning combination of container and contents managed to arise and self organize from a primordial soup of ingredients has been an open question, and contentious, reports the Atlantic. One major problem is that fatty acids, which can naturally form balloon-like structures in water, don’t form membranes in the presence of salts. Since life arose in our salty oceans and amino acids require salt ions, explaining that contradiction was necessary.

The team at the University of Washington discovered that the key is in the ingredients of life themselves. When fatty acids are combined in the presence of amino acids (the base ingredients of DNA and RNA) in a salt water solution, they will form bubbles of fatty acids containing amino acids, the first step to a rudimentary cell. The amino acids provide structure for the fatty acids to assemble while the enclosing fatty acid bubble serves to concentrate the amino acids together into a self-reinforcing structure. Indeed, not only do the amino acids allow for the formation of fatty acid membranes it, for reasons yet unknown, forms them into a layered double wall somewhat resembling an onion. This double fatty acid layer is the same as is found in our own cell walls. JC

10. Feeding the world will mean more beans

A recently released UN report found that 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from agriculture, with the production of meat being a significant portion of that total. Feeding a still-growing world population with plant-based proteins will be a formidable challenge but achievable with legumes like chickpeas and beans taking a leading role, according to Phys.org. Currently only 10% of cropland is devoted to the production of legumes, in order to replace animal-based protein with vegetarian protein, that total will need to increase to 25%. This presents some challenges as the amount of money spent on genetic research for legumes has been dwarfed by that spent on cereal grains used to feed livestock. Additionally, legumes are harder to grow and more susceptible to disease and pests than most cereal crops. The change will be necessary, however, as predictions indicate that by 2050 we will have to feed each person on Earth with just half as much land devoted to farming as we did in 1960.  JC

11. Impending water shortages

By 2030, four out of ten people worldwide will not be able to access clean water, according to a 2016 U.N. report cited by Alternet. Water shortages have become particularly acute in the Middle East, due to climate change and mismanagement. In response, various countries have been building dams and canals which deprive other countries of water; privatization and illegal wells exacerbate the problem, according to Foreign Policy in Focus, which earlier this month wrote that only international cooperation and water treaties will address the issues. RLS

12. Endangered species even more so

A million species are facing extinction, according to the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which came out this spring. An immense effort involving hundreds of researchers from 50 countries, the Report makes it clear that only intensive intervention worldwide will prevent massive losses to biodiversity, with acute consequences to human life as well. Nonetheless, the Trump administration announced a series of new rules this past week which would significantly weaken the endangered species act. Notably, as the New York Times points out, the new rules go to great lengths to avoid taking account of how the climate crisis might affect endangered species. RLS

If you would like to suggest that Congress take on this threat to endangered species, here is how to contact your legislators.

13. Keeping pesticides away from endangered species

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a rule change affecting the process for approving the use of hazardous chemicals that “may affect” endangered species or critical habitats. The change would make the “may effect” determination more difficult, meaning it would be applied less often. Current practice requires that when the “may affect” determination is made for a specific chemical, the EPA must consult with wildlife agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to determine the likely impact of a chemical and methods for mitigating that impact. Essentially, this change will shut federal agencies beyond the EPA out of many applications for pesticide use. A group of Attorneys General and affiliated legal and scientific figures from California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington have submitted a letter opposing the proposed changes. The formal title for this document is “Receipt of a Pesticide Petition Filed for Residues of Pesticide Chemicals in or on Various Commodities for June 2019.” The public comment period ends on September 3. S-HP

If you want to comment on this issue for the public record, here is how to do it.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is an excellent source of action items.
  • Americans of Conscience also  recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above, but here’s her whole list if you’d like to have it.
  • Martha tells us that there are two particularly alarming items on her list this week: The DOJ “Privacy ACT” on creating a new court database for immigrants to be used by ICE and DHS and the “Implementing Legal Requirements Regarding the Equal Opportunity Clause’s Religious Exemption.” She lists many more policies and rules in process to be aware of.
  • Rogan’s list is on hiatus until after Labor Day, but there are still many useful and topical suggestions on it.
  • Margaret Atwood recommends that you follow @projectdrawdown on Twitter, and indeed it is a great source for the many evidence-based reports that have emerged recently.



News You May Have Missed: August 11, 2019

There are numerous elephants in the room in this past week’s news, and we can’t corral all of them. But we have tried to bring issues to the surface that you might not have read about, and to pull together the complex elements of the stories you’ve skimmed. Consider our action items: even if you feel as if your one letter won’t make a difference, it may make a difference for you.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Children left behind struggle to cope

August 7 saw the largest workplace immigration sting in the U.S. in over a decade. The raid involved seven poultry processing plants in Mississippi run by Koch Foods. It resulted in the arrest of 680 allegedly undocumented and mostly Latino workers, but not of any of the Koch executives, Esquire reports. And it occurred during the first week of the 2019-2020 public school year in Mississippi. As a result, the children of those 680 arrestees came home to find one or both parents missing. In many cases, they were locked out of their own homes because their parents held the keys. Schools have been stepping up to assist children whose parents were taken away, MSN reports, as have perfect strangers, and immigrant communities, though terrified, are taking in children whose parents have not been released, the AP reports. Take the time to watch eleven-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio plead for the release of her father.

It seems no coincidence that ICE targed the Koch plants, as workers there had had just won an EEOC case against the company for sexual harassment and racial discrimination, according to Democracy Now. ICE has a history of arresting and detaining activists against immigration policies, even when those activists would not fall into enforcement priorities, Jacobin Magazine reports. RLS/S-HP

If you want to make contributions to assist targeted families or to speak up about the raids, information is here.

2. Where are the children of Homestead?

Remember the Homestead detention center, privately run via a contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)? DHS has reported that as of August 3 no one was being housed at Homestead, according to the Miami Herald, but prior to that date Homestead was a particularly large facility for imprisoning unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. to seek asylum. From March 2018 through August 2019, some 14,300 children passed through Homestead. Now that Homestead is closed, questions remain.

  • Where are the children who were formerly detained at Homestead—have they been released to family members or moved to other detention facilities?
  • While DHS says it has emptied Homestead, it plans to refit the facility with 1,200 beds (down from the previous 2,700). So who will be held there in the future and what will conditions be like for them? A youth care worker described the conditions in Homestead to CBS News.

The administration’s continuing lack of transparency and lack of effective organization in caring for detained minor asylum seekers suggest that overall treatment of these children may not have been significantly improved despite the temporary closure of Homestead. S-HP

If you want to raise concerns about the location and well-being of children who had been held at Homestead, here are some addresses of appropriate people to write.

3. Neither secure nor protected

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsay Graham has used a political maneuver to move his “Secure and Protect Act” (S.1494) out of the Judiciary Committee, making it eligible for consideration by the full Senate, Politico reports. This legislation will be the subject of legal wrangling, regardless of any decisions made by the Senate, but it’s worth looking at what effect S.1494 would have if it became law. Its effects would be most severe for children being held in immigration detention facilities, expanding the maximum length of detention for children from twenty days to one hundred, and allowing unaccompanied minors to be given “expedited deportation” within forty-eight hours of their arrival in the U.S.

S.1494 would give the Secretary of Homeland Security sole discretion over standards for child detention—including issues like sanitation and nutrition, as well as immigration/asylum processing. It would make immigration officers’ decisions regarding unaccompanied minor children final and unreviewable. S.1494 also limits asylum seekers to entering the U.S. through one of four official port of entry. It requires many asylum seekers to request asylum from within the countries where they fear for their lives and will require significant payment for the processing of asylum claims. It changes the criterion for asylum from “credible fear” to “reasonable fear,” essentially a change from “possible” to “more likely than not.” S-HP

If you would like to let Senator Graham–and others–know what you think about the Secure and Protect Act, information to do so is here.

4. Background checks, mental health and gun violence

At the moment, Trump and the Republican administration are blaming gun violence on individuals’ mental health issues. We can debate whether this is an appropriate approach—and certainly there are others like white supremacy and toxic masculinity—but let’s assume that it is. (Note that almost all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence, according to Business Insider.) Back in February 2017, one of Trump’s early actions was to nullify Obama-era legislation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns, NBC News reported. So any Republican “concession” or “compromise” on background checks is actually just a return to what currently would be gun policy in the U.S. if not for Trump’s nullification. S-HP

You can propose meaningful action against gun violence here.

5. Legislation against gun violence

After yet another weekend of gun madness in the U.S. even Trump has come out in favor of universal background checks and briefly floated the idea of an assault weapons ban (these before castigation from the National Rifle Association), NPR reported. As we ask Congress why they aren’t doing more, we can point out some opportunities they have for action. First off, this year the House has already passed two different pieces of background check legislation, H.R.8 and H.R.1112. Both of these have been sent to the Senate—where Mitch McConnell has not even assigned them to a committee. Then, we have the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, (H.R.1296 in the House and S.66 in the Senate). Panetta is a co-sponsor of H.R.1296. Feinstein introduced S.66; Harris is a co-sponsor. These are with the Judiciary Committees of their respective houses, waiting for action before they can be brought to the full legislative body. S-HP

If you want to urge action on legislation against gun violence, you can do so here.

6. Preserving FOIA

A June Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling significantly broadened the interpretation of the “trade secrets exemption” in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This might seem trivial, but it isn’t. When one files an FOIA request that includes not just the government, but private contractors/companies the government works with, the question of what a “trade secret” is has significant implications. Is a trade secret limited to something like the formula for Coca-Cola? Is it the amount the contractor/company is actually billing the government? Does it involve connections between those working for a government agency and those with the contractor/company? Is it the minimum nutritional standards for a detention center? The SCOTUS ruling could easily lead to an answer of “all of the above” for this set of questions.

In response, a bipartisan group of Senators (2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein) has introduced the Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019, S.2220, reports the Toledo Chronicle. This legislation would explicitly require a standard of “substantial harm” (as opposed to, say, “possible harm”) before the trade secret exemption could be used, the Muckrock explains. S.2220 offers two more important guideline clarifications for the FOIA. First, S.2220 would specify that Congressional requests for information, unlike those filed by private individuals or organizations, cannot be redacted for trade secret reasons. The second of these prohibits redacting information produced in response to an FOIA request because it is “nonresponsive,” meaning not immediately connected to the central issue of the FOIA request. The more material labeled “nonresponsive,” the more subsequent FOIA requests will be necessary for full understanding of context and implications. S.2220 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee

If you want to speak up about FOIA, you can do so here.

7. Who are the terrorists?

Let’s look at some recent data on extremist violence in the U.S.

  • According to the Anti-Defamation League extremist-related murders rose 37% from 2017 to 2018 and the distribution of white supremacist propaganda saw a 300% increase over the same period;
  • In 2018, every extremist-related murder in the U.S. was carried out by a right-wing extremist, according to Business Insider. A report suppressed by the FBI confirmed this, Salon reports.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center saw a 30% increase in hate groups in 2018, NBC News reports.

Now, with that information in mind, let’s consider the 2018 counter-terrorism focal points identified in a leaked FBI document. The FBI labeled the top threats as Black Identity Extremists (a term that has been highly criticized in public discourse), Animal Rights and Environmental Extremists, and Anti-Authority Extremists. The document also predicted “attrition” within white supremacist and nationalist extremist groups. See the mismatch? S-HP

If you want to speak up about public safety and who the real terrorists are, here are some possibilities.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Climate crisis increasingly critical

Just in case you’re tempted to move the climate crisis to the back burner, given everything else, let’s consider this potpourri of data:

  • On a single day at the end of July, more than 12 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland, as we reported last week.
  • 7 million acres of the Arctic, primarily in Siberia, are on fire, devastating wildlife that includes bears, foxes, deer, boars, wolves, elk, lynx, hares, mice, and hedgehogs.
  • The smoke blanket from the Siberian fires is larger than the surface area of the entire European Union.
  • Temperatures in Siberia have been exceeding yearly averages by as much as 10° Celsius (18° Fahrenheit).

On top of all that, a leaked United Nations report warns that global temperatures cannot be kept at safe levels without significant changes to our land use and food consumption, including an end to draining of peat bogs, significantly reduced meat consumption, early warning systems for weather and crop yields, according to the Guardian. The Atlantic also has a useful summary of the issues. This report also points out that extreme weather events exacerbate land degradation, meaning every flood, fire, hurricane, and the like, will make feeding the world on the available land increasingly difficult. S-HP

If you want to urge action on the climate crisis, here are some options for doing so.

9. ICE contracts reveals extensive data sharing

A report on every contract awarded by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) by investigative website Sludge has found a 3.8 million dollar agreement to streamline criminal coding between ICE and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Agency (NLETS). NLETS is actually not a government agency; it’s a private non-profit run by the states in order to facilitate communication across jurisdictions between local, state and federal authorities. To this end, NLETS provides comprehensive access to state driver’s license information; when you get your license run by the police in a traffic stop, chances are it’s getting information from NLETS. The problem with ICE paying to get better key word searches for driver’s license information is that over a dozen states have laws allowing undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. According to the Oakland Privacy site, the intent of this collaboration is to aid in enforcement. If ICE can index these types of licenses with a criminal code indicating their immigration status, it would provide home address and other information needed for ICE to detain and deport thousands of people. JC

10. Cyanide bombs

M-44s, also known as “cyanide bombs,” are used to kill coyotes, dogs, foxes, and other wildlife perceived to be a threat to livestock. The devices first lure animals to food-baited traps, then release cyanide directly into their mouths as the animals eat. At the end of last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened public comments on a proposed reauthorization of cyanide bomb use. The public comments, as the EPA itself admits, were overwhelmingly opposed to continued use of cyanide bombs, citing their cruelty and indiscriminate impact. One study of the comments places the total proportion of opposition comments at 99.9%, CBS News reports. Nonetheless, the EPA has decided to reauthorize the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services’ use of cyanide bombs in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Texas. The EPA did some “fine-tuning” to directions for the use of cyanide bombs. The devices may not be used within 100 feet of a public road or pathway (increased from the previous 50-foot prohibition), but it has also lowered the previous requirement for warning signs where these devices are used from a 25-foot radius to a 15-foot radius. S-HP

If the continued use of cyanide bombs in the face of public opposition troubles you, you can write to the addresses listed here.

11. Obama did it so it MUST go

The Trump administration quietly shut down an advisory committee set up at the close of the Obama presidency that was formed to help guide regulatory issues surrounding the emerging technology of self-driving cars, according to the driving website Jalopnik. It’s perplexing because the committee was heavily slanted towards industry with representatives from essentially every major player in the autonomous vehicle game, the kind of move Republicans of just a few years ago would have applauded. The stated reason for shutting it down was cost–which is pretty amusing considering its budget of $41,244 (that’s right… thousands, not millions) went mostly towards payroll time for Department of Transportation staff and the sum is less than the amount spent on hotel rooms for security for Trump’s oldest son’s at a recent golf course opening. The move was SO quiet and quick that sitting members of the committee weren’t even made aware it was no longer extant. So like other instances of advisory committees being gutted or shut down in the FDA, EPA and Dept. of Interior, regulators and lawmakers will have less guidance on the industry they are charged to govern. JC

ARTS & CULTURES

Ngurrara II: A collaborative painting to argue for land rights

This is an amazing story about a critical case in Australian law, which resulted in native land claims being recognized for the first time.  The key to the decision was a collaborative painting depicting water holes. You can watch the painting evolve at this site. MW

Stories of the border: a mural with voices

Artist Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana created an interactive mural on the border, where the voices of the subjects are heard when a cell phone is pointed at their portrait.  The border continues to be a site of profound art arising out of profound pain. MW

Help transcribe Suffragist papers

The Library of Congress has turned to crowdsourcing to transcribe over 16,000 pages of speeches, diaries, and other written materials.  Anyone with online access can help transcribe these documents. The Smithsonian’s website describes this and other projects. MW

A play in the form of a high school debate

“What the Constitution Means to Me” takes on the form of a high school debate to examine what the playwright describes as a“boiling pot in which we are thrown together in sizzling and steamy conflict to find out what it is we truly believe.” MW

RESOURCES

  • Americans with Conscience recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list of actions to take is mostly integrated into the stories above, but the link has the whole list.
  • Martha’s list offers dozens of ways to comment for the public record on issues ranging from environmental policy changes limiting comment and environmental review on national forests logging; a policy change which would not permit California to require a toxic warning on RoundUp; cuts to food stamps; Trump’s Asylum Ban and expedited removal of aliens, the Medicaid work requirement and much more.
  • Rogan’s list suggests offers numerous opportunities for public comment.

News You May Have Missed August 4, 2019

It has been a week of terrible news–and yet we have to go on. We hope that News You May Have Missed will give you the overview you need on the news, as well as ways to take action rather than just feeling besieged. We recommend the action items suggested by Sarah-Hope, Martha and Susan–see the links at the end of this page and on the Resources page. And for sustenance, we recommend art–see Melissa’s Arts and Cultures listings.

Our elections correspondent, Crysostom, has added some new items; his takeaway message: “Based on the president’s current net approval rating and the current House generic ballot, the Democrats would be likely to make modest gains in the House elections and have a real chance to win control of the Senate.” This outcome requires hard work and constant vigilance, of course.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. FBI memo outlines danger of internet-propagated conspiracy theories

Yahoo News obtained an FBI memo published within the department in May describing how “conspiracy theory driven domestic extremists” are a growing threat. The memo specifically mentions both the Pizzagate and Q-Anon conspiracy theories, saying that internet-fed extremists radicalized by these theories will become a growing threat. It is noteworthy that both of these theories originate in the right wing of the US political spectrum, Pizzagate targeting the Clinton family as a cabal of pedophiles and Q-Anon depicting an incredibly convoluted and confusing set of beliefs that boil down to an effort by Donald Trump to take down the so-called “Deep State” Both of these theories have gained a high level of exposure and notoriety thanks to the efforts of Alex Jones’ InfoWars and other alt-right media figures. Adding into the mix is the Russian program to promote divisive conspiracy theories within the United States, even creating one in the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. This is the first document that specifically highlights the alt-right as an emerging terrorist threat in the United States.  JC

2. Trump ending family reunification programs

The Republican Administration has announced that it is ending two immigration “parole” family-reunification programs. Despite the name, “parole” programs have nothing to do with criminal justice. Under immigration parole, candidates for family-reunification immigration may enter the U.S. before receiving green cards and can then do the waiting in the U.S. alongside family members. The first of the programs being cancelled was established in 2016 and allows Filipino WWII veterans to bring family members to the U.S.—a move that is clearly time-sensitive due to the age of these veterans. Senator Mazie Hirono who advocated for this program, has argued for its importance due to the “decades long visa backlog” for individuals in this category. The second cancelled program, which has been in place since 2014, allows family members of some Haitian refugees to move to the U.S. while their green cards are in process. The logic underlying this program was that a facilitated immigration process would allow those Haitians in the U.S. to make more significant contributions to earthquake recovery and rebuilding efforts in their country of origin, CNN reports. S-HP.

If you think “parole” programs should be continued, here’s whom to write.

3. Guns from Nevada

While California has among the strictest gun laws in the country, nearby states like Nevada and Arizona have no such laws. As a result, these border states have become hotspots for gun traffickers and criminals eager to bring weapons into California, accordin to the New York Times. In fact, the gun used on July 29 at the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival was procured in exactly this way. In California, the weapon the gunman purchased is illegal, regardless of the purchaser’s age—and rifles cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 21 (the shooter was 19). What’s needed is a national law that allows gun sales to individuals only in accordance with the laws of that person’s state of residence. Had such a law been in place, the Nevada arms dealer who sold the weapon used would have been prohibited from making that sale. S-HP

To speak about the necessity of state-of-residency gun legislation, write to the people listed here.

4. Good news/bad news for Syrian refugees

In a win-lose decision, the Republican administration’s Department of Homeland Security has approved an eighteen-month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some seven thousand Syrians in the U.S. , according to Think Progress. That’s the “win” part of the decision. TPS grants temporary work authorization to some individuals from countries affected by war, natural disasters, or disease. It does not provide a path to U.S. citizenship. The decision’s “lose” half is that there will be no TPS redesignation for Syria, which means that those living in Syria will not be eligible for TPS status, despite the ongoing military conflict and humanitarian crisis in that country. S-HP.

If you want to speak up about the situation of Syrians, you can write to those on this list.

5. Protecting trans students

During the Obama administration, the Department of Education (DoE) developed guidance for protecting transgender students. In 2017, early on in her work as Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos revoked this guidance, the New York Times explains. In 2018 DeVos officially confirmed that the Department of Education was no longer investigating complaints regarding a range of anti-transgender discrimination. These actions were taken despite the fact that courts have repeatedly held that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, applies to discrimination against transgender students.

A report by the Center for American Progress has reviewed DoE action in response to transgender students’ complaints over the past eight years—which includes part of the Obama administration, as well as all of the Trump administration. Key findings for this period included the fact that transgender students are over-represented in sexual orientation and gender identity complaints. While only an estimated 6-21% of the LGBTQ student community is transgender, 42.6% of complaints involved anti-transgender discrimination, indicating the pervasiveness of this type of discrimination. Among transgender students, 75.9% of complaints alleged sexual or gender harassment. That percentage was slightly lower for the LGBTQ student population overall, at 72.5%. Among the general student population, only 19.9% of complaints alleged sexual or gender harassment. When the research is narrowed to the current administration, only 2.4% of complaints by transgender students received corrective action, as opposed to a rate of 22.4% under the Obama administration. S-HP

To advocate for trans students, you can write to the addresses listed here.

6. Bill would impose minimum standards for imprisoned immigrants

Current minimal standards for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facilities are that CBP must take “every effort to provide food and water” to detainees. As we’ve seen, even these minimal requirements are not always met in meaningful ways with detainees being poorly fed or underfed and often having access only to toilet water for drinking and hygiene. Two pieces of legislation recently passed by the House and now before the Senate would make these minimal standards more specific and comprehensive. H.R.3670, the Short-Term Detention Standards Act, is currently with the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. This bill would require shelter, bathrooms, showers, water, nutrition, personal grooming items, and appropriate sanitation for CBP detainees. H.R.3239, the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act, is now being considered by the Senate as S.2135 and is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. In addition to making requirements like those in H.R.3670, S.2135/H.R.3239 also calls for unannounced Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspections of CBP detention facilities, with follow-up reports to Congress. The Government Accountability Office has the power to assess DSH and CBP compliance with this bill. S-HP

To support legislation requiring minimum standards in prison camps at the border, write to the elected officials listed here.

7. Citizenship for international adoptees

The Child Citizenship Act guarantees citizenship to children adopted internationally by U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, when it was passed, it was not made retroactive, so international adoptees who were 18 or older when the legislation was made law have not received citizenship via this means., Big Island Now reports. H.R.2731, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019, would close this loophole, granting citizenship to international adoptees who had already reached adulthood when the Child Citizenship Act went into effect. H.R.2731 is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. S-HP.

To advocate for legislation providing citizenship for international adoptees, write to those listed here.

8. Danger to family members no basis for asylum

Individuals can apply for U.S. asylum on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a “social group.” In the past, the term “social group” has included family units. Because of this inclusive definition a girl whose brother had been killed for refusing to join a gang would have a right to seek asylum under the “social group” criteria. The same would be true of the child of a mother who had been raped and killed for refusing to engage in drug trafficking. Now Attorney General William Barr has announced that families are not necessarily “social groups” as referred to in immigration law, Time reports. As head of the Department of Justice, Barr has the right to overturn immigration court rulings, so he likely has the ability to exclude family members from “social group” asylum, a move that may  result in thousands of asylum requests being denied and those asylum seekers being returned to locations of life-threatening violence. S-HP

Write to object to this change in policy–addresses are here.

9. Miners hold the line: “No Pay, We Stay.”

Miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, blocked a coal train with 100 cars from leaving the mine after they learned their paychecks had bounced. The owner of the mine, Blackjewel LLC, is a subsidiary of Revelation Energy LLC, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 1st, according toe WYMT in Eastern Kentucky. The train has about a million dollars worth of coal on it, according to WSAZ. The mines went up for auction August 1 but media were not permitted to be there. Labor Notes is a good source on this issue, with links to the twitter feeds of the two radio stations in the area. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. US sells arms likely to be used against Yemenis to Saudi Arabia

Eight billion in arms will be sold to Saudi Arabia, now that the Senate has failed to over-ride Trump’s veto of bills intended to stop the sale, according to the Hill. Part of the plan is for the U.S. to co-produce weapons with Saudi Arabia, giving them access to sensitive technology, NBC News reported in June. According to William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, these weapons “…will almost certainly be used in the war in Yemen. ‘The weapons are going to be put to use in a civilian slaughter.’ ” RLS

11. Syria’s Assad is starving refugees

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is deliberately starving 11,000 displaced Syrians in an effort to get them to leave a refugee camp on the Jordan border, according to Foreign Policy. Since February, Assad has refused to allow the U.N. to bring humanitarian aid to the camp. A refugee organization reported that residents “are suffering from severe malnutrition, surviving on bread made with ingredients normally used to feed animals.” Many have food poisoning. The Washington Post reported that the U.S. is also refusing to feed them, though there is a U.S. military garrison 10 miles away and the military has the capability to feed them. James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, told the Post why the United States won’t feed the residents of the camp: “First of all, if we feed them, it will look like we are going to stay there forever…” RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. Twelve billion tons of ice melt in one day

This is not a typo: twelve billion tons of ice melted in Greenland on Wednesday, science writer Laurie Garrett reported on Twitter. The recent heat wave accounts for the catastrophic melting, reports CBS news; July 2019 was the hottest month on record, according to the  World Meteorological Organization . It’s worth reading Democacy Now’s interview with Jason Box, professor and ice climatologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, on this and other indicators of the climate crisis. RLS

13. “Exterminating the Future”: Brazil’s new government permits destruction of the Amazon.

Since Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil in January, 2019, deforestation has been intensifying. Compared to June of 2018, deforestation in June of 2019 had increased by 88%. According to Democracy Now, Bolsonaro has allowed illegal logging and burning and reversed regulations protecting the Amazon–the Amazon is critical to addressing the climate crisis. In an interview with Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian civil society organizations, Democracy Now pointed out that the recent attacks on indigenous people in the Amazon are entirely connected to the issue of deforestation. RLS

14. Regulating Alexa and Siri

Right now, devices like Alexa and Siri can record your conversations and the information contained in those conversations can be sold without your consent. A bill in California, AB-1395 would require manufacturers of smart speakers—which would include voice command systems built into tablets and mobile phones—to obtain permission from a consumer before the device saves recordings of commands or conversations it hears. It would create an opt-in system for consumers to consent even when the device hears certain “trigger” words designed to alert it to take action. AB-1395 had made it through the Assembly and is now with California Senate Judiciary Committee. Hearings on AB-1395 were set on July 9, but then cancelled. S-HP

15. Gene-editing technique successful at treating blood disorders

A paper submitted by a team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published in the July issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine outlines a gene therapy technique utilizing CRISPR case 9 technology and a type of blood stem cell to effectively treat several blood disorders such as sickle cell and beta-thalassemia. CRISPR is a gene editing technology that uses a specific tailor-made enzyme to snip out precisely targeted segments of DNA and replace them with edited versions; it has revolutionized gene therapy and genetic medicine in the relatively short time it has existed. The proof of principle study took a subset of adult blood stem cells, which create all the blood supply in the human body, and using the CRISPR technology, reactivated a sequence of DNA that normally gets deactivated in people by the age of one that produces a fetal version of hemoglobin.

The production of fetal hemoglobin shuts down the production of abnormal hemoglobin carrying cells that cause disease, and once edited, reproduce themselves with the edited DNA providing a continuous reservoir of modified blood. With just a 30% replacement of blood with the healthier fetal hemoglobin, people with these blood disorders would see their symptoms reverse–effectively providing a cure, Science Daily reports. The team hopes that similar approaches can be used to treat blood cancers and HIV. Because the number of blood cells needed is relatively small, only 5% of human blood cells are this particular variety of stem cell, so the amount needed to be modified would be small and potentially less expensive. JC

Arts & Cultures

New cartoon features indigenous girl

For the first time in US history, a tv show features a Native girl as the main character.  Molly is Gwich’in/Koyukon/Dena’ina Athabascan, and the cartoon explores what it means to be Native American in modern American culture. Molly of Denali is on PBS, Sojurners explains.

“Resistance is fertile”

With the motto “Resistance is Fertile,” Rise Up Review publishes poetry “meant to be disseminated like tiny manifestos.”  The summer issue features the work of 29 poets.

In 2020, a year of exhibitions of work by women

Despite tweets to the contrary, there is a lot of good going on in Baltimore, including its art museum’s effort to address gender diversity in its exhibition space.  During 2020, the Baltimore Museum of Art will focus on the work of women artists.

A font out of gerrymandered districts

Connoisseurs of typefaces will be amazed by Ugly Gerry. As Melissa says, “this is the sort of genius response to political issues that makes my heart sing.  I suggest you download this font and use it to create postcards to send to all Congressional Republicans.”

Unity across the wall

Children and adults on both sides of the border wall were brought together with this set of seesaws that that architects designed to use the wall itself as a fulcrum.: An ingenious use of existing infrastructure to comment on and re-imagine what divides us.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist recommends that you take some time to re-inspire yourself. Americans with Conscience also recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Many of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the news summaries above–but there are more! See her list.
  • Martha’s list for this week includes ways to comment for the public record on cuts to food stamps, Trump’s asylum ban, expedited removal of aliens, drinking water, nuclear weapons, defense installations, pesticides residues allowed, RoundUp, right of federal employees to unionize, exposing miners to diesel exhaust, the ACA and more!
  • Rogan’s list suggests ways to comment on the fact that 911 more children have been separated from their parents since a judge prohibited the practice. She recommends ways to address gun laws, strategies for supporting immigrants, and much more.



News You May Have Missed July 28, 2019

Our elections correspondent, Chrysostom, is back–and just in time! This week he analyzes the effect of retirements, critical Virginia elections, and the gerry-mandering decision. And he speculates on what Susan Collins is really going to do. Find him here.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Heather Heyer’s murderer sentenced

James Alex Fields Jr., a self-described white supremacist, was sentenced to life plus 419 years for killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens during the August 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Vox reports. JM

2. McConnell receives donations from voting machine companies, blocks election security measures

Despite repeated warnings of Russian election interference (including a very clear warning from Robert Muller during his House testimony on July 24), Mitch McConnell continues to block Senate votes on election security measures, using the specious justification that Democratic election security legislation is being championed for “political benefit” and is “partisan legislation,” reports the Hill. McConnell’s position disregards the Senate’s own report, which came out hours after the vote, which concludes that “leading up to the 2016 election, Russians hacked voting machines and registration rolls in all 50 states, and they are likely still doing so,” according to reports from PBS and Slate.

One piece of election security legislation McConnell is currently blocking is H.R.1, the For the People Act, which expands voter registration and voting access, makes Election Day a national holiday, limits the removal of voters from voting rolls, establishes nonpartisan redistricting commissions, supports improvement of election-related cyber-security systems, expands federal code of ethics requirements for candidates and others, requires release of presidential candidates’ tax returns. McConnell is also blocking Senate action on H.R.2722, the SAFE Act, which would provide grants for election system upgrades and paper ballots and mandate particular election security minimums. Earlier this year, McConnell received donations from voting machine companies, according to Newsweek. S-HP

If you have something to say to McConnell about election security, you can write to him here.

3. Another assault on immigrants

The Trump administration has announced a new “expedited removal” process, which has been posted on the Federal Register for public comments. Undocumented immigrants who cannot prove they have been continuously present in the U.S. for the previous two years will be subject to immediate deportation. As Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project Omar Jadwat put it, in a written statement cited by Politico, “Under this unlawful plan, immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court.” S-HP

If you would like to comment for the public record on the “expedited removal” policy, see the instructions here.

4. Ruling could invalidate thousands of convictions

Thousands of people were prosecuted for crossing the border illegally, prosecutions which made possible the separation of children from their parents. Now a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidates part of the statute on which those prosecutions were based, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Hundreds of families could be affected by the ruling. RLS

5. Rule change would limit access to food stamps

Some three million people could have their access to food stamps limited if a proposed federal rule change goes through, according to the Washington Post.. At the moment, people who qualify for federal or state aid also automatically qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The rule change would require that SNAP benefits only be given after a separate income verification, in addition to those already used by the federal and state governments. The Republican administration claims that SNAP benefits are being misused and inappropriately given to people whose income doesn’t merit the support. However, given the difficulty of qualifying for federal and state aid programs, it’s unlikely that anyone is getting “underserved” food assistance via current SNAP qualification practices. Instead, this looks to be the deliberate creation of a new “hoop” for those qualifying for aid to jump through, in the hopes of preventing qualified applicants from accessing SNAP by creating additional an additional barrier to program participation. S-HP

If you wish to submit a comment for the public record about this rule change, or want to write relevant people in Congress, here is how to do it.

6. Who might be implicated by Epstein documents?

A hearing in the Epstein case scheduled for July 24 has been postponed, according to Bloomberg. Documents in the case have been ordered unsealed by an appeals court, the Miami Herald reports. Bloomberg suggests that names of Epstein’s associates may be revealed. Epstein himself was found injured in jail three days after being denied bail; the New York Times says it is not clear whether he was assaulted or whether the marks on his neck were self-inflicted.

Florida Senator Lauren Book told the Miami Herald that she had asked for help from the Capitol police after receiving anonymous threatening phone calls telling her to stop pressing for an inquiry into Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s handling of Epstein’s work release.

Recall that a 2016 lawsuit was filed by a woman who says that she was sexually assaulted by Epstein and Trump when she was 13. Snopes has a good summary of the situation surrouning the suit: The suit was at first dismissed because of improper paperwork, then refiled, then dropped when the plaintiff said she was afraid to pursue it. Her affiavit in a court document from 2016 is unsettling. RLS

7. Greyhound: Working for ICE

Greyhound continues to let Border Patrol agents board its buses to question and arrest passengers without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing. As the American Civil Liberties Union puts it, “the company is throwing its loyal customers under the bus.” Because of Greyhound’s intransigence, the ACLU is urging that we pressure the owners of Greyhound: FirstGroup, a United Kingdom-based transportation group. The FirstGroup Code of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility reads, “We are committed to recognising human rights on a global basis. We have a zero-tolerance approach to any violations within our company or by business partners.” Greyhound’s continued participation in unwarranted, unjustified Border Patrol searches is a clear violation of FirstGroup policy. S-HP

If you would like to suggest that FirstGroup require Greyhound to honor its code of ethics, write to: Mike Murray, President and Chief Executive Officer, FirstGroup America Headquarters, 600 Vine St., Suite 1400, Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 241-2200.

8. Good blockades make good neighbors

In Hermitage, TN, this week, a man was confronted by ICE agents attempting to pull over the vehicle he and his son were in. After a 4 hour standoff where the agents called the Metro Nashville Police Department and neighbors and local activists formed a human chain around his vehicle, the ICE agents left to de-escalate the situation and the man was able to return to his home, surrounded by his neighbors, accordimg to CNN. JML

The ACLU won a suit earlier in July confirming that the Border Patrol may not require passengers on domestic flights to show identification and proof of citizenship. It also reminds us that they provide a “Know Your Rghts” pamphlet.
Scroll down–it is also available in Spanish.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Bill would provide support to Latin American countries

The movement of asylum seekers from Central America to the U.S. has a great deal to do with  U.S. foreign policy in the past: our focus on military assistance, which builds violence and government intransigence; our exporting of firearms; our collaboration in silencing the voices of those speaking out for representative government, social justice, and environmental protection. The U.S. looms like a huge shadow over Central America, and until we find ways to turn that shadow to light, asylum-seekers are going to continue northward because of the danger and hopelessness of life in Central America. An excellent way to shine that light would be to enact H.R.2615, the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which has made it through the House and is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. H.R. 2615 has been almost completely ignored by the mainstream media; the Yonkers Tribune has the story. S-HP

If you want to encourage positive rather than punitive engagement with Central America, here are some senators you might write.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Green New Deal passes in New York

New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill described as New York’s own “Green New Deal,” focusing heavily on renewable energy production. The so-called “Green New Deal” endorsed by progressives in Congress is actually more of a platform, a host of wide-ranging policies advocating everything from a universal basic income to changes in agricultural policies. The New York version is much more focused on the expansion of renewable “green” energy in the state with a particular emphasis on boosting off-shore wind generation. With a signed contract for two new wind farms generating a total of 1.7 gigawatts, New York is poised to become the largest producer of off-shore power. The bill also provides for a Climate Justice Working Group in order to help ensure that the benefits of green energy are enjoyed by low-income communities as well as wealthier areas, according to Ars Technica.
JC

11. Russian bots pushing anti-Vax “debate”

A study conducted by George Mason University on twitter bots from Russian troll farms found that the bots post about vaccine conspiracy theories far more than an average poster would, according to CBS News. This fits with the generally accepted theory that along with election interference, the goal of this disinformation blitz is to foster division among Americans. The bots also appear to be starting to propose conspiracies about health risks associated with 5G digital networks, suggesting they cause cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s. The United States is in the midst of the worst measles outbreak in decades; health agencies and social networks are pushing back and attempting to remove these dangerous bits of propaganda–but a lot of damage has already been done, just as with our political system. JC

12. “Unprecedented” fires in the Arctic

Last month, the Guardian reported that permafrost in the Canadian north is melting 70 years earlier than expect. Now, following the hottest June on record, wildfiles are raging in the Arctic, across Alaska, Siberia and Greenland., covering so much territory that they can be seen from space, according to Science Direct. Fires in Alaska have already burned 1.6 million acres, with no end in sight. The fires are both created by and contributing to global warming. Describing the fires as “unprecedented,” Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, told the Independent that “the amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires between 1 June and 21 July 2019 is around 100 megatonnes and is approaching the entire 2017 fossil fuel CO2 emissions of Belgium.” RLS

Satellite photo of the wildfire in the Qeqqata Kommunia, Greenland (Pierre Markuse/Creative Commons)


RESOURCES

News You May Have Missed July 22, 2019

Be inspired–by the protestors in Puerto Rico, by the four activists who have hounded Big Pharma for twenty years, by the attorneys working doggedly to protect the rights of asylum-seekers, by the reporters who uncover these stories, and by Martha, Sarah-Hope and Susan Rogan, who offer significant ways to respond to the news.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. New Rule blocks most asylum-seekers

A new rule, published in the Federal Register, bars asylum-seekers who pass through another country on the way to the U.S. from seeking asylum in the U.S., according to the LA Times. Unless civil rights organizations succeed in getting it blocked, as of Tuesday asylum requests on the southern border could only be made by Mexican citizens. All other asylum-seekers would be expected to request asylum from the first nation they enter. This rule would apply to all asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied children. Individuals who are refused asylum in the first nation they enter could then continue to the U.S. to request asylum, but the asylum process can take years. For example, if this rule holds, a Guatemalan or Honduran asylum-seeker could not come directly to the US to request asylum; they would have to request asylum in Mexico or any other country they passed through, a process which would take a very long time. A coalition of organizations that serve immigrants filed suit in federal court the day after the policy was announced, according to the NY Times. S-HP

If you want to ask your members of Congress to keep the U.S. a welcoming country, here is how to find addresses. If you want to comment for the public record, here is the Federal Register site.

2. ICE won’t release detainees to family, sponsors

Congresspeople visiting the detention center in McAllen, Texas were horrified by the cries of babies and toddlers, by the level of filth, and by the refusal of ICE to release detainees, even children, to family members or sponsors–even though the facilities are overwhelmed and overcrowded, according to People magazine. California representative Jackie Speier’s twitter feed has details. RLS

If you wish to speak up about conditions in detention centers, addresses are here.

3. FBI and ICE using drivers’ license photos without permission

In early July, the Washington Post reported that over the past five years the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been making use of state drivers’ license databases, scanning photos into their facial recognition program without consent of state legislators or individual license holders. While law enforcement can have access to data taken from criminal suspects, the vast majority of citizens whose data is now being taken are law-abiding citizens.

As has been repeatedly reported, facial recognition software is still unreliable, particularly in identification of people of color. For instance, in a test of facial recognition software last year by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amazon’s facial recognition software falsely identified thirty-eight members of Congress as people who had been arrested for crimes. California, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have privacy legislation on the books preventing this sort of sharing of Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) databases—and Oregon asserts that it has privacy legislation of a scope that would also prohibit such database use. However, as the Vermont ACLU recently revealed, while the state has privacy legislation that should prevent this sort of data sharing, the state’s DMV has allowed law enforcement full access to license databases on a number of occasions. In fact, the Vermont use of DMV databases disproportionately focused on individuals of color. Blacks were targeted in such database searches at seven times the rate whites were. Hispanics were targeted at rates twelve times higher than were whites. S-HP

If you want to speak up about privacy protection vis a vis drivers’ licenses, the addresses are here.

4. Puerto Rico’s government shaken by chat messages, inaction, corruption

Protestors have rocked Puerto Rico for over a week, demanding an end of corruption and lack of action on long-standing economic and social issues following Hurricane Maria, the Washington Post reports. Igniting the protests was the release of 889 pages of chat messages, in which Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his associates make fun of their opponents, female journalists, and those who lost everything in the hurricane. You can read the messages (in Spanish) here. Though thousands of people have been in the streets and the governor faces impeachment, the mainstream media noticed only yesterday (July 20), as Columbia Journalism Review points out. RLS

5. Opioid epidemic

76 billion opioid pills, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, were distributed across the US, according to new data obtained following a lawsuit by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and the Washington Post. The chain of responsibility runs from manufacturers–the original producer, Purdue Pharma and the three generic companies who now produce most of the pills–to distributors to unethical pharmacies and doctors to desperate patients and addicts. The DEA had devolved regulatory responsibility to the industry, for the most part, and when it tried to intervene found its hands tied by members of Congress who pushed through legislation favorable to the industry. When companies were fined, the fines were miniscule compared to profits.

Areas where people are suffering from work injuries and from economic stress–such as Appalachia–were flooded with opioids. You can see how many pills (per person per year) went to your county between 2006-2012 at the Post’s site. The truth about Big Pharma’s culpability in oxycontin addiction was first articulated twenty years ago by activists–just four of them–who had lost family members to the disease. As their numbers grew, they became an implacable force, according to the New York Times.

Canada, which also has an opioid crisis, has launched a new initiative to make naloxone, which can reverses overdoses, more readily available, according to the CBC. Already, anyone can get a free naloxone kit at any pharmacy. Canada’s very detailed Pain Task Force Report, released in June, clearly identifies the suffering of people who live with chronic pain and cannot get opioids or who become addicted to them, describes how acute pain becomes chronic pain, and explains options for treatment. RLS

6. Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal have introduced a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (S.2112 in the Senate; H.R.3760 in the House). This legislation would include domestic workers in basic workplace protections like overtime pay and freedom from harassment and discrimination, from which they are now excluded, according to Elle. It requires written contracts for such workers and access to healthcare and retirement benefits. The legislation also includes enforcement provisions including “know your rights” information and a confidential hotline for reporting violations of the act. S.2112 Is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. H.R.3760 is with five (!) House committees: Education and Labor; Energy and Commerce; Ways and Means; Judiciary; and Oversight and Government Reform. S-HP

If you want to urge prompt action on these bills, write to these folks.

7. Accounting firms supporting ICE

McKinsey Consulting has ended its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but several major accounting firms continue to work with ICE, often despite employee objections, according to Newsweek. A quick rundown on some of these:

-Ogilvy and Mather has contracts with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to recruit new CBP employees. In defending these contracts Chief Executive Officer John Seifert has claimed that Ogilvy and Mather is not doing any work against its values and beliefs.

-Deloitte U.S. has $140 million in ICE contracts. Chief Executive Officer Joe Ucuzoglu has been a strong advocate for workplace diversity and for LGBTQ rights. U.S. Board Chair Janet Foutty worked on behalf of girls, via MakerGirl and Storycatchers, during corporate Impact Day.

-PricewaterhouseCoopers has $5 million in ICE contracts for “detention compliance and removals.” Their corporate human rights statement notes “we depend on each other to be mindful of our ethical responsibilities.” S-HP

If you want to inquire how corporate values are served by child detention camps, here are the relevant addresses.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Humanitarian aid diverted to the opposition in Venezuela

A July 11 memo, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, notified Congress that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is transferring $41.9 million earmarked for humanitarian aid to Juan Guaido and his party, who have been operating in opposition to the country’s President Nicolas Maduro. According to the Los Angeles Times, “All of the money being diverted will go to Guaido and his faction, the memo said, to pay for their salaries, airfare, ‘good governance’ training, propaganda, technical assistance for holding elections and other ‘democracy-building’ projects.” The humanitarian aid was previously earmarked for Guatemala and Honduras and would have been used in anti-poverty and anti-violence projects. The logic of the transfer is questionable, given the administration’s focus on ending the movement of asylum-seekers from these two nations to the U.S. If there is no hope of improving conditions in Guatemala and Honduras, asylum-seekers have all the more reason to begin the journey north. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the re-routing of humaniarian aid, here are the addresses.

9. Syrian refugees may be deported

In less than two weeks, Syrians with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the U.S. will hear whether they’re at risk of deportation to a war zone. There aren’t many options left for Syrians fleeing humanitarian crises created by eight years of war. Syrian families with TPS were already forced to flee nearly a decade of incessant attacks from the Assad regime, Iran, Russia, the Islamic State, and the United States’ bombing campaigns in cities like Raqqa. If TPS is ended, Syrians will be vulnerable to deportation—to a war zone amidst humanitarian crises of mass food insecurity, lack of access to health care, and torture that the U.S. hasn’t meaningfully helped stop. So far, the most effective strategy to pressure the Homeland Security and State Departments to keep TPS for Syria—is for Congress to make noise, issue statements and defend TPS. S-HP

If you’re in favor of TPS status for Syrian refugees, you can speak up here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Plan to help agriculture sequestered

Politico has reported on a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan, completed in 2017 in the early part of the Trump administration, for dealing with climate change. Public release of the plan, a follow-up to a 2010 plan that had been publicly released, was blocked by the new administration. The plan was intended to help agriculture anticipate and respond to the effects of climate change. It examined what would be necessary to make agriculture carbon neutral. It outlined essential research that should be conducted to meet the needs of the nation over the next five to eight years. It documented the ways climate change is already affecting U.S. farming and ranching. It specifically considered the impact of climate change on insect populations, crop maturation, and livestock reproductivity. Finally, the plan called on the USDA to “increase public awareness of climate change.” S-HP

If you would like to urge that this (publically funded) research be released, write to the addresses listed here.

11. Another toxic pesticide spared by Trump

In a victory for the chemical industry and agribusiness, the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump appointee Andrew Wheeler has decided not to ban the chemical chlorpyrifos, despite well-researched damage to children’s health. Conceding that the agency would continue to “monitor” the use of the chemical through 2022, the agency concluded that the data presented supporting a ban was not “sufficiently valid, complete or reliable,” according to the New York Times. Sold under the name Lorsban, it has already been banned for household use but remains in use in agriculture on hundreds of thousands of acres in California alone. The EPA had moved to ban the chemical in 2015 under the presidency of Barack Obama, citing research done by the agency itself showing potential harm to brain development in children. However, the ban had not yet come into effect when it was stopped by the Trump EPA in 2017. The move to regulate the use of chlorpyrifos now moves to the states where Hawaii has already banned it, with New York and California considering bans.  

If you would like to recommend stronger action on chlorpyrifos, the people on this list need to hear from you.

12. Popular browser extensions provide user data for sale 

An investigative report by the Washington Post has found that six popular web browser extensions offered for use by both the Firefox and Chrome browsers have been compiling user data and offering it for sale. The extensions are Hover Zoom, SpeakIt!, SuperZoom, SaveFrom.net, Helper, FairShare Unlock and PanelMeasurement, with over four million combined users. Consumers may be under the assumption that browser extensions must abide by the brower’s privacy policies; however, this is not so. Each has their own end-user agreements which explicitly state they collect user data, with two saying they collect browsing data. End-user agreements have long been criticized as insufficient for disclosure purposes as consumers simply do not read them in the vast majority of cases. Upon being informed, both Mozilla (the maker of Firefox) and Google (the maker of Chrome) deactivated the extensions, according to Digital Trends. Cited in the Post’s piece is a massive study revealing organizations that sell your data: scroll 3/4 of the way down and be amazed.

ARTS & CULTURES

Art & Climate Change

What is the role of the artist and our art institutions during the climate emergency?  The keynote address of ART&CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 features Beka Economopoulos and Jason Jones of the Natural History Museum, a collective that works at the intersection of art, activism, and theory.  You can skip the first 10 minutes of credits and donor thanks. To learn more about the Natural History (pop-up) Museum, take a look at their website.

As biodiversity is depleted, so is linguistic diversity

An interesting look at how we frame the world with our choice of words – and why it matters.  This piece from Jstor daily is one you’ll want to hold on to–and it is packed with useful links. A new word to learn: ecolinguistics.

“A Guide to Essential, Underrated, and Flat-Out Extraordinary Films by Black Women Directors”

The headline says it all: an amazing list of more than 50 films by black women directors, many with links for online viewing.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist recommends this list of actions you can take to address issues at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s recommendations for action are linked to the stories above; to see the whole list–including her brilliant riff on impeachment–look here.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on a multitude of issues, including changes to long-term care, natural gas drilling in Alaska, increased plutonium production, and much more.
  • Rogan’s list is a weekly repository of news items and ways to respond to them–always responsible and reliable.

News You May Have Missed: July 14

There’s a little light even as more information comes to light. The Lights for Liberty protests; the hard work of immigration nonprofits; the work of #AuthorsAgainstBorderAbuse, a group of writers offering consultations in exchange for donating to border organizations; and the many efforts to lobby Congress all suggest that a consensus about the detention of children is building. But see the piece from Reveal on the detention of infants, and see our backrounder on Sanctuary–as well as important science and health news, below.

DOMESTIC NEWS

“Classrooms, not Cages”: Lights for Liberty protests you may have missed

750 events were held around the country–including large ones in
New York, Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Southern California–and in Canada to protest the conditions in which asylum seekers are being detained. You wouldn’t know this unless you were there, however, or unless you read or listened to your local media outlet or saw USA Today. The events were ignored by the Washington Post and the New York Times. Among the participants at the DC event were members of the American Federation of Teachers, with signs reading “Classrooms, not Cages.” At that event, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, whose family fled the Sri Lankan civil war when she was a baby, said of immigrants, “We admit them not because they are American, but because we are American.” RLS

More detention centers holding children and infants–without their parents

The U.S. government is opening more shelters housing children and infants–without their parents, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s news site, Reveal. One such site in Phoenix has 12 children under 5, the youngest three months old. Another site in Arizona has a newborn, while a center in Modesto, California has a two-week old baby who was born in the U.S. and is therefore a citizen. Reveal  was unable to find out where the children’s mothers are.

Reveal notes that the children are supposed to be provided with legal services–but that the centers had delayed signing contracts with anyone who could provide them. Hundreds of children are being held in the Carrizo Springs shelter near San Antonio; attorneys at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), said that they intend to provide legal services for children at the center regardless of whether the Office of Refugee Resettlement gives them a contract. RLS

Massive child detention facilities planned

According to Fortune, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is soliciting bids for new, long-term (with initial twenty-year leases) immigration detention facilities for children. Sites in Georgia, Texas, and Arizona are reportedly under consideration. These plans imply that the government intends to make detention of children (and family separation) an ongoing practice, lasting well beyond the twenty-day limit mandated by the Flores Settlement. S-HP

If you have an opinion about child detention centers, you can voice it here.

Sexual assaults, punishments in retaliation against children at the border

Between April 10 and June 12, Health and Human Services (HHS) caseworkers collected almost thirty accounts of sexual assault and retaliation for protests from children being held in a Yuma, Arizona, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facility, according to NBC News. All of these children had been held at the facility beyond the legal maximum of seventy-two hours. Children claim they’ve had their sleeping mats taken away after complaining about the quality of food and water, have been punished for sitting or standing too near windows, are called “putos” by staffers (an offensive term for male prostitutes that is often used as an insult implying both cowardice and homosexuality), and are kicked awake.

A fifteen-year-old girl described an officer conducting what was supposed to be a standard “pat-down” by grabbing her breasts and pulling down her underwear, all while joking with other staffers who watched the assault. A CBP spokesperson said such incidents did not align with common practices at their facilities and that the sexual assault was under investigation. According to the report from NBC News, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) visited this facility in April and described it as “the worst state of the human condition I have ever seen in my life” and that Homeland security and Border Patrol agents “were dealing with conditions that they had not trained for [and] were not equipped to handle.” S-HP

If you are inclined to speak up about this, the people who need to hear it are at this link.

Immigrants fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for taking sanctuary

The Trump administration has begun levying fines against individuals without documents with final orders of removal that have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars, including those who have taken refuge in churches and other houses of worship where they have been offered sanctuary, ABC News reports. Edith Espinal-Moreno, originally from Mexico, who has been living in a church in Ohio since 2017 was issued a fine of $497,770 for “willfully” refusing to leave the country to comply with ICE orders, according to NPR. According to ICE, they have the right to impose fines of  up to $500 for each day an individual is in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, although immigration lawyers say they have never heard of the law being used in this way. Pro-immigrant groups argue that imposing these fines is designed to instill fear in both immigrant communities and the churches who offer sanctuary. JML

Sanctuary in houses of worship explained

While it is widely believed that law enforcement is not allowed to enter houses of worship when they have offered sanctuary to those facing injustice, the matter is more complicated. There is a history going back to the middle ages of churches offering protection, although in the United States, there is no legal protection for this practice. Going back to the 1980s, the Sanctuary movement in the United States has been made up of faith communities– Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, Mennonites, Quakers, and others– offering Sanctuary to Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict but denied asylum due to federal immigration policies that made it difficult for Central Amercans to obtain. Starting in the early 2000s, the New Sanctuary movement was made up of faith communities publicly offering sanctuary to individuals facing unjust deportation orders, often housing a single person or family within the walls of the church while lawyers worked with courts or immigration authorities to obtain a more favorable outcome.

Members of the Sanctuary movement have participated in both civil disobedience (defying laws for moral purposes) and civil initiative (upholding laws they thought their own government was violating). While there are no protections in law for houses of worship, there is a 2011 memo issued by ICE stating that certain locations were considered sensitive and enforcement activities at these locations should be limited, CNN explained.. The locations in the 2011 memo were schools, hospitals, houses of worship, the sites of funerals, weddings, or other public religious ceremonies, and during public demonstrations such as rallies, marches, or parades, according to Justice for Immigrants. In January, 2018, ICE published a clarification to the memo stating that courthouses do not qualify as sensitive locations, although enforcement in non-criminal areas of courthouses should be limited or avoided. The Sensitive Locations memo doesn’t entirely prevent actions in these locations, but in many cases it has done so. Official guidance states that the primary reasons for enforcement actions is exigent circumstances, such as national security threats, pursuit of dangerous felons, imminent risk of harm, or risk of destruction of evidence in a criminal case. The policy also doesn’t apply to certain ICE activities such as obtaining records, serving subpoenas, or participating in community meetings. It also doesn’t apply to certain enforcement activities within 100 miles of any land or sea border, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol, in accordance with the 2001 Patriot Act.  Because the Sensitive Locations Memo is not a statute or regulation, it could be disregarded or eliminated at any time. JML

Subpoenas you might have missed

There’s a lot going on in the world of Congressional subpoenas. The House Judiciary Committee has approved subpoenas for twelve individuals who were key witnesses in the Russian Election Interference and Russian-Trump Campaign investigation led by Robert Mueller. These include former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (that’s a lot of “formers”), as well as Presidential advisor/son-in-law Jared Kushner. Additional subpoenas for unnamed individuals have been issued in relation to the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has led to family separations. In a related move, the Judiciary Committee has also voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for refusal to turn over documents related to the attempted addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. S-HP

If you’d like to thank the House Judiciary Committee, here’s how.

More subpoenas needed

Before resigning as head of the Department of Labor due to a potentially illegal plea deal brokered in 2007 for Jeffrey Epstein when he was accused of multiple counts of raping children (let’s skip the euphemisms “engaging in sex acts” and “underage women”), Alexander Acosta proposed an 80% cut to the Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB). “International Labor Affairs Bureau” may sound like a relatively boring, box-ticking sort of crew, but it is actually in charge of globally countering human trafficking (including child sex trafficking), child labor, and forced labor (in other words, slavery)—a rather odd move, given the administration’s frequent citing of child trafficking as a justification for its border policies. Last year the ILAB had a budget of $68 million. Acosta’s proposal would have reduced that budget to $18.5 million for next year. On the other hand, the budget passed by the House in June would increase ILAB funding to $122 million for next year. A Congressional inquiry into the process and reasoning by which Acosta decided on this proposed cut seems appropriate and could begin with a subpoena for the new Acting Secretary of Labor (and former Deputy Secretary of Labor) Patrick Pizella. S-HP

Do you want the House Judiciary Committee to look into this? Write the chair of the Committee.

US tries to move asylum-seekers out of the US, deprive them of attorneys

The Trump administration is working on a plan not only to declare Guatemala a “safe third country” but to send asylum seekers to Guatemala to await their hearings, according to the New Yorker. 

Guatemala is plagued by corruption and by violent criminal groups, according to Human Rights Watch, with women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people especially at risk. Hunger is rampant, due to crop failures and drought; 76,000 asylum-seekers from Guatemala attempted to cross into the US in February alone, accordinng to the NY Post.RLS

In January, the administration implemented the inappropriately named Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which require Central American asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico until their asylum cases are heard. The MPPs leave asylum-seekers stranded in dangerous, overstretched, under-resourced communities where contact with attorneys who could help them with the asylum process is very difficult.

The MPPs have been gradually expanded to different regions, and were made policy in El Paso-Cuidad Juárez more than three months ago. The Texas Tribune is now reporting on changes to the implementation of the MPPs in El Paso-Ciudad Juárez that are making the asylum process increasingly difficult and opaque. In late June, the Justice Department ordered an end to “know your rights” workshops that attorneys and immigrant rights groups held for those who would be facing asylum hearings, claiming that because technically the asylum seekers were in federal custody (even if not in the U.S.) only their attorneys were allowed to speak with them—but, as explained above, most asylum seekers don’t have attorneys because they are stranded in Mexico. This week the Justice Department has also ended the participation of “friends of the court,” trained volunteers who were allowed to assist judges and asylum seekers during hearings by explaining court procedures, providing translation, and relaying information to judges. The results have reportedly been an “exponential” increase in the chaos and level of fear in asylum courts. S-HP.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

US Army Corps of Engineers admits to toxic releases of water in Florida

In a meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, US Army Corps of Engineers Major General Scott Spellmon admitted that the agency was responsible for release of toxic waters polluted with massive blooms of blue-green algae into sensitive Floridian estuaries via canals from Lake Okeechobee, according to the Miami New Times. The blooms of blue-green algae are the result of agricultural runoff pollution spilling into the lake, which has had threateningly high water levels necessitating releases so as to preserve the integrity of the levee system. At issue is that the algae wreaks havoc on the environment and that the releases were, while possibly necessary, done without notifying affected communities.  JC

Non-profit hospital chain highlighted for ruthless collection practices

A ProPublica investigation has found that a system of non-profit hospitals in the Memphis area has pursued relentless collections practices despite clearing 86 million dollars in profits for 2018. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare operates six hospitals serving a city with a poverty rate of 25%, clearing more than two billion dollars in revenue. Nonetheless, it filed suit against 8300 patients between 2014 and 2018 for unpaid medical bills, securing garnishment orders in 46% of those cases, according to Ars Technica. This has happened despite a nationwide easing of collections practices in the non-profit healthcare sector, after bi-partisan criticism of the punishing practices. Said GOP senator Chuck Grassley in a 2017 op-ed “The arrangement is a compact between tax-exempt hospitals and the entities that grant tax exemption. Federal, state, and local governments forgo billions of dollars in taxes to tax-exempt entities that have been deemed to meet a pressing societal need.” In one illustrative example. Carrie Bennett, who was treated in a two-night stay for shortness of breath and chest pain, accumulated a bill of just over $12,000, which has ballooned with interest judgments to $33,000. Ms. Bennett has never made more than $12 an hour and in 2018 earned a total of $13,800.  JC

No stats on bees

Citing fiscal cuts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it is suspending National Agricultural Statistics Service data collection for and publication of the Honey Bee Colonies Report. This data is normally collected quarterly, but under the suspension, available data will run from January 1, 2018 to April 1, 2019. There will be no data for the May 2019-July 2019 quarter and those following. According to The Hill, this is the bee data-gathering project that has been scaled-back under the Trump administration. Earlier, the Trump administration had ended a 2014 ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that was put in place because of the threat these pesticides represent to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. How will the rollback affect bee populations? That’s going to be hard to find out. S-HP

Want to let someone know what the stakes are of the loss of bees? Here is a list of whom to write.

Get your (drug-resistant) UTIs cultured!

Urinary tract infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, according an article in the New York Times. A third of UTIs in Britain are resistant to the antibiotics ordinarily used; because we don’t have a nationwide health care system, we don’t know what the percentage is here. The increase is due in part to antibiotics used in poultry, according to a study published in the
American Society of Microbiology. UTIs are ordinarily caused by e coli, which reside in the colon. When people consume chicken–which may contain antibiotic resistant e coli–the bacteria end up in their gut–and can migrate to their bladders. Resistant UTIs can be dangerous, resulting in kidney infections; at a minimum they mean that the misery is prolonged while different antibiotics are tried. Getting a UTI cultured at the time of diagnosis can reduce how long that misery goes on as well as the consumption of the wrong antibiotic. RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist recommends this list of actions you can take to address issues at the border.
  • Some recommendations from Sarah-Hope’s list follow relevant stories; here are other opportunities to be heard.
  •  Martha’s list provides numerous opportunities to comment for the public record–on issues including privacy, the migratory bird hunting on Tribal lands, Alaska drilling, multiple state-by-state changing ozone standards, reducing energy efficiency standards for appliances – heaters and furnaces, and much more.
    Rogan’s list has many useful items, that ActBlue Charities has a fund supporting a group of organizations working at the border; a toolkit from Never Again, the Jews organizing against the detention camps; a locator from United We Dream that indicates how many people are being held where; and ways to take action on nearly any issue that concerns you.